Phenotype variability of identical genotypes: the need for a combined approach in cyanobacterial taxonomy demonstrated on Merismopedia-like isolates
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Five Merismopedia-like cyanobacterial strains were collected from microbial mats at Norderney Island, subcultured in the laboratory, and finally grown as unicyanobacterial cultures. As a sixth strain, Merismopedia glauca from the „Sammlung von Algenkulturen“ at Göttingen (SAG) was used for comparisons. According to morphological and physiological characteristics initially observed in the field and during initial subculturing, the five strains were assigned to the species Merismopedia glauca, Merismopedia punctata, or Merismopedia elegans. However, after prolonged maintenance under laboratory conditions, the formation of platelet-like colonies stopped, whereas cell sizes, production of extracellular polymeric substances, and division patterns were stably maintained. These physiological and morphological parameters allowed us to divide the six strains into two clusters. This division was further supported by the profiling of total cell protein and phycobilisomes using SDS-PAGE. The nearly complete 16S rDNA sequence of three of the six isolates was determined. The comparative sequencing analysis revealed an almost 100% identity of these three Merismopedia-like strains. The evolutionary distance dendrogram constructed placed this Merismopedia cluster into a common line of descent with Synechocystis sp. strain PCC6906. Based on the analysis of common stretches of 1,050 nucleotides, the overall similarity between the sequence types of „Merismopedia“ and „Synechocystis“ is 96–97%. The values of the different methods for taxonomic classification of unicyanobacterial strains, the relationship of the cyanobacterial genera Merismopedia, Synechococcus, Synechocystis, and Eucapsis sp., and the functional role of different Merismopedia morphologies within microbial mats are discussed. It is suggested that all analyzed Merismopedia strains be combined into one species, namely Merismopedia punctata Meyen (1839).
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