The diversity and distribution of toxigenic Microcystis spp. In present day and archived pelagis and sediment samples from Lake Erie

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The reoccurrence of significant cyanobacterial blooms in Lake Erie during the last 13 years has raised questions concerning the long-term persistence of microcystin-producing cyanobacteria and the presence of natural sediment reservoirs for potentially toxic cyanobacteria in this large lake system. To address these questions, we analyzed phytoplankton and sediment samples which were collected and preserved in the 1970s as well as samples collected in 2004 from locations within Lake Erie. The identification of microcystin-producing cyanobacteria in Lake Erie was examined via PCR amplification of the mcyA gene fragment. Based on the high % sequence similarity, the mcyA sequences from all 1970s phytoplankton and sediment samples were determined to belong to Microcystis spp., in spite of reports suggesting that Lake Erie was dominated by filamentous cyanobacteria in the 1970s. In sediment samples from 2004, signature genes for Microcystis were distributed and preserved not only in the surface sediments but also up to 10–12 cm in depth. Based on cell quantities determined by a quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) method, 0.18% of eubacteria in the sediments were Microcystis cells, of which 4.8% were potential microcystin producers. In combination with experiments showing that Microcystis cells can be cultured from Lake Erie surface sediments, this paper demonstrates the potential for these sediments to act as a reservoir for pelagic Microcystis populations and that the composition of the population of microcystin-producing cyanobacteria in Lake Erie has not changed remarkably since the 1970s.

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