Applied and Environmental Microbiology
chytrid, cyanobacteria, harmful algal blooms
Planktothrix agardhii dominates the cyanobacterial harmful algal bloom community in Sandusky Bay, Lake Erie (USA), from May through September. This filamentous cyanobacterium is host to a known obligate parasite, the chytrid Rhizophydium sp. During the 2018 bloom season, by utilizing dilution and single-filament isolation techniques, 7 chytrid and 12 P. agardhii strains were isolated from Sandusky Bay. These 7 chytrids and a selection of P. agardhii hosts were then characterized with respect to infection rates. Infections by the isolated chytrids were specific to Planktothrix planktonic species and were not found on other filamentous cyanobacterial taxa present in the bay (Aphanizomenon sp. and Cuspidothrix sp.). Even among the potential P. agardhii host strains, individual chytrid isolates had different degrees of infectivity and showed preferences for different host isolates, suggesting possible ecological partitioning even within the same sample population. When mechanisms of chytrid pathogenesis were examined, the zoospores displayed a swarming pattern to attack and fracture the host filament and create new infection sites at the trichome termini. Infections by these parasitic chytrids also led to a release of intracellular microcystin toxins from the hosts. Additionally, infections were dependent on medium type, highlighting the importance of medium choice for experimental outcomes. Media in which chytrid swarming was observed closely matched the ionic strength of the natural environment. Understanding pathogenesis by fungal parasites will assist future efforts to determine environmental factors favoring loss mechanisms for Planktothrix agardhii-dominated blooms. IMPORTANCE Whereas many studies have focused on the factors contributing to the establishment and persistence of cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (cHABs), few studies have examined bloom pathogenesis. Chytrid fungi infect cyanobacteria and stimulate food web interactions through manipulation of previously hard-to-digest filaments and the release of nutrients to support heterotrophic microbes. Specifically, chytrids infective for filamentous Planktothrix agardhii exhibit a species-specific infection that fragments trichomes into shorter units that can be consumed more easily by grazers. Chytrid zoospores also serve as a high-quality food source for the lower food web. Understanding host-pathogen relationships and mechanisms of pathogenesis on cyanobacteria will be necessary to effectively model the ecology of cHABs.
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McKindles, Katelyn M.; Jorge, Alejandro N.; McKay, R. Michael; Davis, Timothy W.; and Bullerjahna, George S.. (2021). Isolation and Characterization of Rhizophydiales (Chytridiomycota), Obligate Parasites of Planktothrix agardhii in a Laurentian Great Lakes Embayment. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 87 (4).