Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Nitrogen fixation in Oscillatoria (Trichodesmium) erythraea in relation to bundle formation and trichome differentiation


Planktonic populations of Oscillatoria (Trichodesmium) erythraea are abundant in the coastal waters of Tanzania (East Africa) during the northern monsoon period. The floating trichomes are either solitary or matted in bundles; the proportion of trichomes assembled in bundles can vary between 25 and 75%. Bundledness is inversely related to wind speed. Nitrogenase activity (acetylene reduction), which is directly related to bundledness, is high in the morning, declines by midday, and is measurable throughout the night. The trichomes display a clearly perceptible morphological differentiation into granulated and nongranulated regions, due apparently to the presence or absence of carboxysomes (polyhedral bodies) in the corresponding cells. Reducing conditions (tetrazolium reduction) are marked in the non-granulated region, particularly in cells which lie close to the granulated region of the trichome. Rod-shaped bacteria, which were invariably observed in the bundles, are more numerous around the non-granulated region of the trichome. Incorporation of 15N-nitrogen, following exposure to 15N2, was significantly higher in the O. erythraea fraction than in any associated particulate fractions. The results vouch for nitrogen fixation by O. erythraea and are consistent with the concept of segregation of photosynthetic and nitrogen-fixing activities along trichomes.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Literature Cited

  1. Bryceson, I.: An ecological study of the phytoplankton of the coastal waters of Dar es Salaam, Ph.D. thesis, University of Dar es Salaam 1977

  2. Bryceson, I.: Nitrogen fixation and the autecology of Oscillatoria erythraea (Ehrenberg) Kuetzing, a planktonic cyanophyte from the coastal waters of Tanzania. In: Proceedings of Symposium on the Coastal and Marine Environment, Khartoum, January 1980. (No publication details available)

  3. Bunt, J. S., K. E. Cooksey, M. A. Heeb, C. C. Lee and B. F. Taylor: Assay of algal nitrogen fixation in the marine subtropics by acetylene reduction. Nature, Lond. 227, 1163–1164 (1970)

  4. Burris, R. H. and P. W. Wilson: Methods for measurement of nitrogen fixation. Meth. Enzym. 4, 355–366 (1957)

  5. Carpenter, E. J. and J. J. McCarthy: Nitrogen fixation and uptake of combined nitrogenous nutrients by Oscillatoria (Trichodesmium) thiebautii in the western Sargasso Sea. Limnol. Oceanogr. 20, 389–401 (1975)

  6. Carpenter, E. J. and C. C. Price: Marine Oscillatoria (Trichodesmium): explanation for aerobic nitrogen fixation without heterocysts. Science, N. Y. 191, 1278–1280 (1976)

  7. Capenter, E. J. and A. E. Walsby: Gas vacuole collapse in marine Oscillatoria (Trichodesmium) thiebautii (Cyanophyta) and the effect on nitrogenase activity and photosynthesis. J. Phycol. 15, 221–223 (1979)

  8. Dugdale, R. C., D. W. Menzel and J. A. Ryther: Nitrogen fixation in the Sargasso Sea. Deep-Sea Res. 7, 297–300 (1961)

  9. Fay, P.: The heterocyst. In: The biology of blue-green algae, pp 238–259. Ed. by N. G. Carr and B. A. Whitton. Oxford: Blackwell 1973

  10. Flett, R. J., R. D. Hamilton and N. E. R. Campbell: Aquatic acetylene reduction techniques: solutions to several problems. Can. J. Microbiol. 22, 43–51 (1976)

  11. Fogg, G. E.: Nitrogen fixation. In: Algal physiology and biochemistry, pp 560–582. Ed. by W. D. P. Stewart. Oxford: Blackwell 1974

  12. Fogg, G. E., W. D. P. Stewart, P. Fay and A. E. Walsby: The bluegreen algae. London and New York: Academic Press 1973

  13. Goering, J. J., R. C. Dugdale and D. W. Menzel: Estimates of in situ nitrogen uptake by Trichodesmium sp. in the tropical Atlantic Ocean. Limnol. Oceanogr. 11, 614–620 (1966)

  14. Golubic, S.: Einführung in die Probleme der numerischen Taxonomie bei Cyanophyten. In: Cyanobakterien-Bakterien oder Algen? pp 15–32. Ed. E. E. Krumbein. Oldenburg: Littman Druck 1979

  15. Harvey, J. G.: Some aspects of the hydrography of the waters off the coast of Tanzania. Sci. J. Univ. Dar es Salaam 3, 53–92 (1977)

  16. Haselkorn, R.: Heterocysts. A. Rev. Pl. Physiol. 29, 319–344 (1978)

  17. McDowell, E. M. and B. F. Trump: Histologic fixatives suitable for diagnostic light and electron microscopy. Archs Path. 100, 405–414 (1976)

  18. Pearson, H. W., R. Howsley, C. K. Kjeldsen and A. E. Walsby: Aerobic nitrogenase activity associated with a non-heterocystous filamentous cyanobacterium. Fedn eur. microbiol. Soc. (FEMS) Lett. 5, 163–167 (1979)

  19. Rippka, R. and J. B. Waterbury: The synthesis of nitrogenase by non-heterocystous cyanobacteria. Fedn eur. microbiol. Soc. (FEMS) Lett. 2, 83–86 (1977)

  20. Ross, P. J. and A. E. Martin: A rapid procedure for preparing gas samples for nitrogen-15 determination. Analyst, Lond. 95, 817–822 (1970)

  21. Saino, T. and A. Hattori: Diel variation in nitrogen fixation by a marine blue-green alga, Trichodesmium thiebautii. Deep-Sea Res. 25, 1259–1263 (1978)

  22. Shively, J. M.: Inclusion bodies of prokaryotes. A. Rev. Microbiol. 28, 167–187 (1974)

  23. Sournia, A.: Variations saisonnieres et nycthemerales du phytoplankton marin et de production primaire dans une baie tropicale, a Nosy-Be (Madagascar). Int. Revue ges. Hydrobiol. 53, 4–76 (1968)

  24. Stewart, W. D. P. and G. A. Codd: Polyhedral bodies (carboxysomes) of nitrogen-fixing blue-green algae. Br. phycol. J. 10, 170–178 (1975)

  25. Stewart, W. D. P. and M. Lex: Nitrogenase activity in the bluegreen alga Plectonema boryanum strain 594. Arch Mikrobiol. 73, 250–260 (1970)

  26. Taylor, B. F., C. C. Lee and J. S. Bunt: Nitrogen fixation associated with the marine blue-green alga Trichodesmium, as measured by the acetylene reduction technique. Arch. Microbiol. 88, 205–212 (1973)

  27. Van Baalen, C. and R. M. Brown: The ultrastructure of the marine blue-green alga, Trichodesmium erythraeum, with special reference to the cell wall, gas vacuoles and cylindrical bodies. Arch. Mikrobiol. 69, 79–91 (1969)

  28. Wyatt, J. T. and J. K. G. Silvey: Nitrogen fixation by Gloeocapsa. Science, N.Y. 165, 908–909 (1969)

Download references

Author information

Additional information

Communicated by J. Mauchline, Oban

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Bryceson, I., Fay, P. Nitrogen fixation in Oscillatoria (Trichodesmium) erythraea in relation to bundle formation and trichome differentiation. Mar. Biol. 61, 159–166 (1981).

Download citation


  • Nitrogen
  • Acetylene
  • Coastal Water
  • Nitrogen Fixation
  • Tetrazolium