Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 5

The Blue-Greens (Cyanobacteria)

Introduction and uniqueness

The algae are the simplest members of the plant kingdom, and the blue-green algae are the simplest
of the algae. They have a considerable and increasing economic importance; they have both
beneficial and harmful effects on human life. Blue-greens are not true algae. They have no nucleus,
the structure that encloses the DNA, and no chloroplast, the structure that encloses the
photosynthetic membranes, the structures that are evident in photosynthetic true algae. Infact bluegreens are more akin to bacteria which have similar biochemical and structural characteristics. The
process of nitrogen fixation and the occurrence of gas vesicles are especially important to the success
of nuisance species of blue-greens. The blue-greens are widely distributed over land and water, often
in environments where no other vegetation can exist. Their fossils have been identified as over three
billion years old. They were probably the chief primary producers of organic matter and the first
organisms to release elemental oxygen, O2, into the primitive atmosphere, which was until then free
from O2. Thus blue-greens were most probably responsible for a major evolutionary transformation
leading to the development of aerobic metabolism and to the subsequent rise of higher plant and
animal forms. They are referred to in literature by various names, chief among which are Cyanophyta,
Myxophyta, Cyanochloronta, Cyanobacteria, blue-green algae, blue-green bacteria.
The majority of blue-greens are aerobic photoautotrophs: their life processes require only oxygen,
light and inorganic substances. A species of Oscillatoria that is found in mud at the bottom of the
Thames, are able to live anaerobically. They can live in extremes of temperatures -60C to 85C, and
a few species are halophilic or salt tolerant (as high as 27%, for comparison, conc. of salt in seawater
is 3%). Blue-greens can grow in full sunlight and in almost complete darkness. hey are often the first
plants to colonize bare areas of rock and soil, as an example subsequent to cataclysmic volcanic
explosion (at Krakatoa, Indonesia in 1883). Unlike more advanced organisms, these need no
substances that have been preformed by other organisms.
At the onset of nitrogen limitation during bloom conditions, certain cells in Anabaena and
Aphanizomenon evolve into heterocysts, which convert nitrogen gas into ammonium, which is then
distributed to the neighboring cells of a filament. In addition, blue-greens that form symbiotic
(mutually beneficial) relationships with a wide range of other life forms, can convert nitrogen gas into
Finally, at the onset of adverse environmental conditions, some blue-greens can develop a modified
cell, called an akinete. Akinetes contain large reserves of carbohydrates, and owing to their density
and lack of gas vesicles, eventually settle to the lake bottom. They can tolerate adverse conditions
such as the complete drying of a pond or the cold winter temperatures, and, as a consequence,
akinetes serve as "seeds" for the growth of juvenile filaments when favorable conditions return.
Heterocysts and akinetes are unique to the blue-greens.

Blue-greens in freshwater lakes

Unicellular and filamentous blue-greens are almost invariably present in freshwater lakes frequently
forming dense planktonic populations or water blooms in eutrophic (nutrient rich) waters. In
temperate lakes there is a characteristic seasonal succession of the bloom-forming species, due
apparently to their differing responses to the physical- chemical conditions created by thermal
stratification. Usually the filamentous forms (Anabaena species, Aphanizomenon flos-aquae and
Gloeotrichia echinulata) develop first soon after the onset of stratification in late spring or early
summer, while the unicellular-colonial forms (like Microcystis species) typically bloom in mid-summer
or in autumn. The main factors which appear to determine the development of planktonic populations
are light, temperature, pH, nutrient concentrations and the presence of organic solutes.
Attached and benthic populations in lakes
Many blue-greens grow attached on the surface of rocks and stones (epilithic forms), on submerged
plants (epiphytic forms) or on the bottom sediments (epipelic forms, or the benthos) of lakes.
The epilithic community displays a clearly discernable zonation in lakes. Members of the genera
Pleurocapsa, Gloeocapsa and Phormidium often dominate the dark blue-black community of the spray
zone. Scytonema and Nostoc species form olive-green coatings and are more frequent about the
water line, whilst the brownish Tolypothrix and Calothrix species are more typical components of the
subsurface littoral community.
The epiphytic flora of lakes is usually dominated by diatoms and green algae, and blue-greens are of
less importance in this community. Species of the genera Nostoc, Lyngbya, Chamaesiphon and
Gloeotrichia have been occasionally encrusting submerged plants.
The epipelic community commonly includes blue-greens like Aphanothece and Nostoc particularly in
the more eutrophic lakes. Benthic blue-greens growing over the littoral sediments and on submerged
plants may be responsible for the occasional high rates of N 2-fixation measured in oligotrophic lakes.
Terrestrial blue-greens
In the temperate region blue-greens are especially common in calcareous and alkaline soils. Certain
species, Nostoc commune, are often conspicuous on the soil surface. Acid soils, however, lack bluegreen element and are usually dominated by diatoms and green algae.
Gliding movement
When viewed under the light microscope, blue-greens show a variety of movements, such as gliding,
rotation, oscillation, jerking and flicking.
Nuisance/Noxious Conditions
The formation of water blooms results from the redistribution and often rapid accumulation of buoyant
planktonic populations. When such populations are subjected to suboptimal conditions, they respond
by increasing their buoyancy and move upward nearer to the water surface. Water turbulence usually
prevents them reaching the surface. If, however, turbulence suddenly weakens on a calm summer
day, the buoyant population may 'over-float' and may become lodged right at the water surface.
There the cells are exposed to most unfavourable and dangerous conditions, like O2 supersaturation,
rapidly diminishing CO2 concentrations and intense solar radiation, which are inhibitory to
photosynthesis and N2-fixation, causing photo-oxidation of pigments and inflicting irreversible
damage to the genetic constitution of cells. A frequent outcome of surface bloom formation is
massive cell lysis and rapid disintegration of large planktonic populations. his is closely followed by an
equally rapid increase in bacterial numbers, and in turn by a fast deoxygenation of surface waters
which could be detrimental to animal populations within the lake. Water blooms are objectionable for
recreational activities, and more importantly, create great nuisance in the management of water
Most of these conditions are produced by just three blue-greens, informally referred to as Annie
(Anabaena flos-aquae), Fannie (Aphanizomenon flos-aquae) and Mike (Microcystis aeroginosa). An
oversupply of nutrients, especially phosphorus and possibly nitrogen, will often result in excessive

growth of blue-greens because they possess certain adaptations that enable them to outcompete true
algae. Perhaps the most important adaptation is their positive buoyancy, which is regulated by their
gas vesicles which are absent in true algae.
Benefits (see latest research on negative impacts)
Their reputation as "nuisance" or "noxious" is totally undeserved. While periodic blooms are
considered a nuisance in recreational lakes and water supply reservoirs of North America, the near
continuous blooms of blue-greens in some tropical lakes are a valuable source of food for humans.
Some blue-green species make major contributions to the world food supply by naturally fertilizing
soils and rice paddies. R.N. Singh of the Banares Hindu University in India has shown that the
introduction of blue-green algae to saline and alkaline soils in the state of Uttar Pradesh increases the
soils' content of nitrogen and organic matter and also their capacity for holding water. This treatment
has enabled formerly barren soils to grow crops. Astushi Watanabe of the University of Tokyo found
the introduction of Tolypothrix tenuis resulted in a 20% increase of rice crop. W.E. Booth of the
University of Kansas showed through experiments in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, that a coating of
blue-greens on prairie soil binds the particles of the soil to their mucilage coating, maintains a high
water content and reduces erosion.
Humans also consume Spirulina. It contains all of the amino acids essential for humans, and its
protein content is high ( 60%). It is a staple food in parts of Africa and Mexico. In China, Taiwan and
Japan, several blue-greens are served as a side dish and a delicacy. Several areas in North America
culture and commercially process certain blue-greens for various food and medicinal products such as
vitamins, drug compounds, and growth factors.
Heterocystous blue-greens possess the unique ability to simultaneously evolve O 2 in photosynthesis
(in vegetative cells) and H2 by nitrogenase catalyzed electron transfer to H +-ions (in heterocysts), in
the absence of N2 or other substrates of nitrogenase. This is the basis for the attempts of several
workers to exploit the potential through the development of a `biophotolytic system' for solar energy
conversion, even though to date the thermodynamic efficiency has been disappointingly low.
Nevertheless, the utilization of blue-greens in food production and in solar energy conversion may
hold immense potential for the future, and could be exploited for man's economy. Progress in the
study of the genetics of blue-greens may enable us to manipulate the N 2-fixation (nif) and associated
genes, and produce strains which fix N2, evolve H2or release ammonia with great efficiency.
Poisonous Conditions (Also see Cyanobacterial toxins for the current research findings; "Few studies
have examined the risk to wildlife and humans from exposure to airborne cyanotoxins. However,
recent research has indicated that cells may be transported as aerosols from lakes with high
concentrations of cyanobacteria and microcystins. Aerosols may be a more direct route of exposure to
public health for those recreating or living by a contaminated body of water, .............................")
Poisonous blue-greens occur in ponds and lakes throughout the world. In Canada, they primarily occur
in the prairie provinces. Poisoning has caused the death of cows, dogs, and other animals. Although
humans ordinarily avoid drinking water that displays a blue-green bloom or scum, they may be
affected by toxic strains when they swim or ski in recreational water bodies during a bloom. Typical
symptoms include redness of the skin and itching around the eyes; sore, red throat; headache;
diarrhea; vomiting; and nausea. The frequently occurring `swimmers itch' is attributed to contact
with Lyngbya majuscula, Schizothrix calcicola and Oscillatoria nigroviridis, which are commonly found
in tropical and subtropical seawaters. The toxins responsible are lipid-soluble phenolic compounds.
Since the same or similar symptoms can be produced by bacteria or viruses, one should not
necessarily conclude that blue-greens are responsible for a human illness simply because the sick
individual recently swam in a lake or pond that has suffered a bloom. Human death has not been
documented. Reported cases affecting humans list Anabaena as the main culprit.
Most of the recorded toxic blooms are caused by Microcystis aeruginosa, which manufactures
"microcystin", which yields 7 (or 14) amino acids upon hydrolysis. It causes enlargement and

congestion of the liver followed by necrosis and haemorrhage, and may also exhibit neurotoxic
But many toxic blooms are also produced by either Anabaena flos-aquae (manufactures "anatoxins")
or Aphanizomenon flos-aquae (manufactures "aphantoxins").
Alkaloid toxins (anatoxins, aphantoxins) act on the nervous system, leading to paralysis of muscles
needed for breathing.
Two other genera, Oscillatoria and Nodularia are also known to produce toxic populations. Whether
the animal survives the poisoning depends primarily upon the concentration of toxin ingested. Bluegreen toxins may act on zooplankton and might be an effective mechanism of protection against
grazing pressures.
Little is known about the percent of blooms that are toxic (upto 25% quoted in literature), and also
why a toxic population is produced. A complicating factor is that part of a bloom can be toxic and
another part nontoxic within the same lake. It has been suggested that toxic strains may develop only
under a particular set of environmental conditions, or that toxin production may be associated with
plasmid-mediated gene transfer.
Colour and identification
The blue-green color of cells (cyan means blue-green) is due to the combination of green chlorophyll
pigment and a unique blue pigment (phycocyanin). However, not all blue-greens are blue-green. Their
pigmentation includes yellow-green, green, grey-green, grey-black, and even red specimens. The Red
Sea derives its name from occasional blooms of a species of Oscillatoria that produces large
quantities of a unique pigment called phycoerythrin. In the arid regions of Central and East Africa,
flamingos consume vast quantities of Spirulina, and their feathers derive their pink color from
carotene pigments in filaments of Spirulina.
The blue-greens are microscopic life forms that exhibit several different types of organization. Some
grow as single cells enclosed in a sheath of slime-like material, or mucilage. The cells of others
aggregate into colonies that are either flattened, cubed, rounded, or elongated into filaments. Actual
identification of cyanobacteria (blue-greens) requires microscopic examination of cells, colonies, or
filaments, although experienced aquatic biologists can usually recognize Microcystis (colonies look
like tiny grey-green clumps) andAphanizomenon (green, fingernail-like or grass-like clippings).
Measures to control the growth of blue-greens
Chemicals are widely used to prevent the growth of nuisance algae, and the commonest one being
copper sulphate. A number of other algicides are phenolic compounds, amide derivatives, quaternary
ammonium compounds and quinone derivatives. Dichloron aphthoquinone is selectively toxic to bluegreens. The hazards of using toxic chemicals indiscriminately in the natural environment are well
Biological control is in principle possible, though not always practical and as effective. Invertebrates
like cladocerans, copepods, ostracods and snails are known to graze on green algae and
diatoms. Daphnia pulex has been reported to feed on Aphanizomenon flos-aquae while present in the
form of single filaments or small colonies but avoid large raft-like colonies. The
copepod Diaptomus has been implicated in the grazing of Anabaena populations in Severson Lake,
Micro-organisms (fungi, bacteria and viruses) appear to play an important part in regulating growth of
blue-greens in freshwaters. Certain chytrids (fungal pathogens) specifically infest akinetes, other
heterocysts. Bacterial pathogens belonging to the group of Myxobacteriales can effect rapid lysis of a
wide range of unicellular and filamentous blue-greens, though heterocysts and akinetes remain
generally unaffected. Viral pathogens belonging to the group of cyanophages exhibit some degree of
host specifity. Phage AR-1 attacks Anabaenopsis, phages SM-1 and AS-1 are effective against the
unicellular forms, Synechococcus and Microcystis, Phage C-1 lyses Cylindropermum, and the LPP-1
virus is effective against strains of Lyngbya, Phormidium and Plectonema.
The long-term approach is no doubt the systematic removal of major nutrients.