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Title: Microcystin  
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Subject: Algal bloom, Microcystis, List of compounds with carbon numbers 50–100, Algae, Oligopeptide
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NOAA captured this view of Lake Erie in October 2011, during the worst cyanobacteria bloom the lake experienced in decades. Torrential rains increased fertilizer runoff, which promoted the growth of microcystin-producing bacteria.[1][2]

Microcystins (or cyanoginosins) are a class of toxins[3] produced by certain freshwater cyanobacteria; primarily Microcystis aeruginosa but also other Microcystis, as well as members of the Planktothrix, Anabaena, Oscillatoria and Nostoc genera. Over 50 different microcystins have been discovered so far, of which Microcystin-LR is the most common. Chemically they are cyclic heptapeptides produced through nonribosomal peptide synthases.[4]

Microcyctins can be produced in large quantities during algal blooms and pose a major threat to drinking and irrigation water supplies, as well as the environment at large.[5][6]


  • Characteristics 1
  • Exposure 2
  • Formation 3
  • Pathways 4
  • Cyanobacteria blooms 5
    • Lake Erie Blooms 5.1
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9


Chemical structure of microcystin-LR

Microcystin-LR is the most toxic form of over 80 known toxic variants, and is also the most studied by chemists, pharmacologists, biologists, and ecologists. Microcystin-containing 'blooms' are a problem worldwide, including China, Brazil, Australia, South Africa,[7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14] the United States and much of Europe.

Microcystins contain several uncommon non-proteinogenic amino acids such as dehydroalanine derivatives and the uncommon β-amino acid ADDA. Microcystins covalently bond to and inhibit protein phosphatases PP1 and PP2A and can thus cause pansteatitis.[15]


Microcystins are hepatotoxic (able to cause serious damage to the liver). Once ingested, microcystin travels to the liver, via the bile acid transport system, where most is stored; though some remains in the blood stream and may contaminate tissue.[16][17] There appears to be inadequate information to assess the carcinogenic potential of microcystins by applying EPA Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment. A few studies suggest a relationship may exist between liver and colorectral cancers and the occurrence of cyanobacteria in drinking water in China.[18][19][20][21][22][23] Evidence is, however, limited due to limited ability to accurately assess and measure exposure.

The impact of exposure to microcystin by patients with a compromised immune system is not yet fully known, but is starting to raise some concern.[24]


A culture of microcystis aeruginosa, a photosynthesizing bacteria

The microcystin-producing microcystis, is a genus of freshwater cyanobacteria and is projected to thrive with warmer climate conditions, such as the rise of water temperatures or in stagnant waters, and through the process of eutrophication (oversupply of nutrients).[6] An Ohio state task force found that Lake Erie received phosphorus and more recently reactive phosphorus from crop land, due to the farming practices, and evidence suggests that in particular dissolved reactive phosphorus (from fertilizer) promotes additional growth.[25]


Microcystin-producing bacteria blooms can overwhelm the filter capacities of water treatment plants. Some evidence shows the toxin can be transported by irrigation into the food chain,[26][27] Microcystins are chemically stable over a wide range of temperature and pH, possibly as a result of their cyclic structure. Due to their cyclic nature they cannot be broken down by standard proteases like pepsin, trypsin, collagenase, and chymotrypsin.[28]

Cyanobacteria blooms

A study concluded in 2009 that climate change can act as a catalyst for global expansion of harmful cyanobacterial blooms.[5] The EPA reported in 2013, that changing environmental conditions such as harmful algae growth is associated with current climate change, and may negatively impact the environment, human health, and the economy for communities across the US and around the world.[29]

Lake Erie Blooms

A record outbreak of blooming microcystis occurred in Lake Erie 2011, in part related to the wettest spring on record, and expanded lake bottom dead zones, reduced fish populations, fouled beaches, and the local tourism industry that generates more than $10 billion in revenue annually.[1]

On 2 August 2014, the City of Toledo, Ohio detected higher levels of microcystin than deemed safe in its water supply due to harmful algal blooms (HABs) in Lake Erie, the shallowest of the Great Lakes. They issued a DO NOT DRINK OR BOIL water advisory to approximately 500,000 people.[30][31] Algal blooms have been occurring more frequently, and scientists had predicted this significant bloom of blue-green algae, and they projected it to peak in early September.[32][33]

See also


  1. ^ a b Michael Wines (March 14, 2013). "Spring Rain, Then Foul Algae in Ailing Lake Erie". The New York Times. 
  2. ^ Joanna M. Foster (November 20, 2013). "Lake Erie is Dying Again, and Warmer Waters and Wetter Weather are to Blame". ClimateProgress. 
  3. ^ Dawson, R.M. "the toxicology of microcystins". Toxicon 36 (7): 953–962.  
  4. ^ Ramsy Agha, Samuel Cirés, Lars Wörmer and Antonio Quesada (2013). "Limited Stability of Microcystins in Oligopeptide Compositions of Microcystis aeruginosa (Cyanobacteria): Implications in the Definition of Chemotypes". Toxins.  
  5. ^ a b Paerl HW, Huisman J (February 2009). "Climate change: a catalyst for global expansion of harmful cyanobacterial blooms". Environmental Microbiology Reports 1 (1): 27–37.  
  6. ^ a b "Increasing toxicity of algal blooms tied to nutrient enrichment and climate change". Oregon State University. October 24, 2013. 
  7. ^ Bradshaw D, Groenewald P, Laubscher R, Nannan N, Nojilana B, Norman B, Pieterse D, Schneider M (2003). Initial Burden of Disease Estimates for South Africa, 2000 (PDF). Cape Town: South African Medical Research Council.  
  8. ^ Fatoki, O.S., Muyima, N.Y.O. & Lujiza, N. 2001. Situation analysis of water quality in the Umtata River Catchment. Water SA, (27) Pp 467-474.
  9. ^ Oberholster PJ, Botha A-M, Grobbelaar JU (2004). "Microcystis aeruginosa: Source of toxic microcystins in drinking water". Africa Journal of Biotechnology 3: 159–68. 
  10. ^ Oberholster PJ, Botha A-M, Cloete TE (2005). "An overview of toxic freshwater cyanobacteria in South Africa with special reference to risk, impact, and detection by molecular marker tools". Biokemistri 17: 57–71.  
  11. ^ Oberholster PJ, Botha A-M (2007). "Use of PCR based technologies for risk assessment of a winter cyanobacterial bloom in Lake Midmar, South Africa". African Journal of Biotechnology 6 (15): 14–21. 
  12. ^ Oberholster, P. 2008. Parliamentary Briefing Paper on Cyanobacteria in Water Resources of South Africa. Annexure “A” of CSIR Report No. CSIR/NRE/WR/IR/2008/0079/C. Pretoria. Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
  13. ^ Oberholster, P.J.; Cloete, T.E.; van Ginkel, C.; Botha, A-M.; Ashton, P.J. (2008). "The use of remote sensing and molecular markers as early warning indicators of the development of cyanobacterial hyperscum crust and microcystin-producing genotypes in the hypertrophic Lake Hartebeespoort, South Africa" (PDF). Pretoria: Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. 
  14. ^ Oberholster, P.J.; Ashton, P.J. (2008). "State of the Nation Report: An Overview of the Current Status of Water Quality and Eutrophication in South African Rivers and Reservoirs" (PDF). Pretoria: Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ Falconer, Ian R. (1998). "Algal Toxins and Human Health". In Hrubec, Jiři. Quality and Treatment of Drinking Water II. The Handbook of Environmental Chemistry. pp. 53–82.  
  17. ^ Falconer, I.R. 2005. Cyanobacterial Toxins of Drinking Water Supplies: Cylindrospermopsins and Microcystins. Florida: CRC Press. 279 pages.
  18. ^ Humpage AR, Hardy SJ, Moore EJ, Froscio SM, Falconer IR (October 2000). "Microcystins (cyanobacterial toxins) in drinking water enhance the growth of aberrant crypt foci in the mouse colon". Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A 61 (3): 155–65.  
  19. ^ Ito E, Kondo F, Terao K, Harada K (September 1997). "Neoplastic nodular formation in mouse liver induced by repeated intraperitoneal injections of microcystin-LR". Toxicon 35 (9): 1453–7.  
  20. ^ Nishiwaki-Matsushima R, Nishiwaki S, Ohta T, et al. (September 1991). "Structure-function relationships of microcystins, liver tumor promoters, in interaction with protein phosphatase". Japanese Journal of Cancer Research 82 (9): 993–6.  
  21. ^ Ueno Y, Nagata S, Tsutsumi T, et al. (June 1996). "Detection of microcystins, a blue-green algal hepatotoxin, in drinking water sampled in Haimen and Fusui, endemic areas of primary liver cancer in China, by highly sensitive immunoassay". Carcinogenesis 17 (6): 1317–21.  
  22. ^ Yu S-Z (1989). "Drinking water and primary liver cancer". In Z.Y. Tang, M.C. Wu, and S.S. Xia. Primary Liver Cancer. New York: China Academic Publishers. pp. 30–7.  
  23. ^ Zhou L, Yu H, Chen K (June 2002). "Relationship between microcystin in drinking water and colorectal cancer". Biomedical and Environmental Sciences 15 (2): 166–71.  
  24. ^ Doyle P. (1991). The Impact of AIDS on the South African Population. AIDS in South Africa: The Demographics and Economic Implications. Centre for Health Policy, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.
  25. ^ Suzanne Goldenberg (August 3, 2014). "Farming practices and climate change at root of Toledo water pollution". The Guardian. 
  26. ^ Codd GA, Metcalf JS, Beattie KA (August 1999). "Retention of Microcystis aeruginosa and microcystin by salad lettuce (Lactuca sativa) after spray irrigation with water containing cyanobacteria". Toxicon 37 (8): 1181–5.  
  27. ^ Abe, Toshihiko; Lawson, Tracy; Weyers, Jonathan D. B.; Codd, Geoffrey A. (August 1996). "Microcystin-LR Inhibits Photosynthesis of Phaseolus vulgaris Primary Leaves: Implications for Current Spray Irrigation Practice". New Phytologist 133 (4): 651–8.  
  28. ^
  29. ^ "Impacts of Climate Change on the Occurrence of Harmful Algal Blooms" (PDF). EPA. 2013. 
  30. ^ "Algal bloom leaves 500,000 without drinking water in northeast Ohio". Reuters. August 2, 2014. 
  31. ^ Rick Jervis, USA TODAY (August 2, 2014). "Toxins contaminate drinking water in northwest Ohio". 
  32. ^ John Seewer. "Don't drink the water, says 4th-largest Ohio city". 
  33. ^ "Toxins in water leads to state of emergency in Ohio". Ohio Standard. Retrieved 2 August 2014. 

Further reading

  • National Center for Environmental Assessment. Toxicological Reviews of Cyanobacterial Toxins: Microcystins LR, RR, YR, and LA (NCEA-C-1765)

External links

  • Harmful Algal Blooms (EPA)
  • Blue-Green Algae (Cyanobacteria) and their Toxins (Health Canada)
  • Toxic cyanobacteria in water: A guide to their public health consequences, monitoring, and management (WHO)
  • Cyanobacteria and Cyanotoxins: Information for Drinking Water Systems (EPA)
  • Cyanobacteria, and microcystin production (The New York Times)
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