Journal of Applied Phycology

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 129–135

Screening Arthrospira (Spirulina) strains for heterotrophy



Thirty-five clonal, axenic Arthrospira strains were screened for their ability to grow heterotrophically on six carbon sources (20 mM). Glucose (34 strains) and fructose (24 strains) were the only substrates permitting growth in the dark. In some assays, however, not every replicate grew and, in at least one strain (D867), repeat assays over 2 years on material maintained in the light indicated that the ability to use fructose in the dark had become lost. Four further strains from other culture collections were compared, because they are presumed duplicates of three of the main set of strains; in at least three cases the duplicates of a pair differed in their ability to use fructose in the dark. In another comparison, where straight and helical morphotypes of the same strain could be compared, two of the four straight morphotypes (including one duplicate strain) grew with glucose in the dark, whereas none of the helical morphotypes did so. It is suggested that genetic drift has led to losses in the ability to grow heterotrophically in some strains.

Ten of the main set of strains were tested for their ability to grow photoheterotrophically with four of the carbon sources (glucose, maltose, fructose, sucrose). All grew with glucose and maltose, but none with fructose or sucrose, in spite of the fact that eight (of this subset) grew with fructose in the dark. Sucrose led to most of a culture lysing, but often with short fragments of trichome surviving and subsequently giving rise to a normal culture. All the surviving cells in the transitory stage showed the presence of large intrathylakoidal granules, which had disappeared by the time that the culture had returned to a healthy state. Bleaching and recovery were more rapid at 70 than 10 μmol photon m−2 s−1. The presence of DCMU prevented this recovery. There was no bleaching when an inoculum of the recovered material was subcultured to medium with sucrose.

Key Words

Arthrospira fructose glucose heterotrophy mixotrophy photoheterotrophy Spirulina sucrose 





Culture Collection of Algal Laboratory, Institute of Botany, Trebon, Czech Republic


Culture Collection of Algae and Protozoa, UK


Pasteur Culture Collection of Cyanobacterial Strains, Paris, France


Sammlung von Algenkulturen der Universität Göttingen, Germany


Culture Collection of Algae at the University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, USA


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Belay A (2002) The potential application of Spirulina (Arthrospira) as a nutritional and therapeutic supplement in health management. J. Am. Nutraceutical Assoc. 5: 27–48.Google Scholar
  2. Bishop NI (1958) The influence of the herbicide, DCMU, on the oxygen-evolving system of photosynthesis. Biochim. biophys. Acta 27: 205–206.Google Scholar
  3. Chen F, Zhang Y (1997) High cell density mixotrophic culture of Spirulina platensis on glucose for phycocyanin production using a fed-batch system. Enzyme Microbiol. Technol. 20: 221–224.Google Scholar
  4. Flores E, Schmetterer G (1986) Interaction of fructose with the glucose permease of the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. strain 6803. J. Bact. 166: 693–696.Google Scholar
  5. Hihara Y, Ikeuchi M (1997) Mutation in a novel gene required for photomixotrophic growth leads to enhanced photoautotrophic growth of Synechocystis sp. PCC6803. Photosynthesis Res. 53: 243–252.Google Scholar
  6. Joset F, Buchou T, Zhang CC, Jeanjean R (1988) Physiological and genetic analysis of the glucose-fructose permeation system in two Synechocystis species. Arch. Microbiol. 149: 417–421.Google Scholar
  7. Kenyon CN, Rippka R, Stanier RY (1972) Fatty acid composition and physiological properties of some filamentous blue-green algae. Arch. Mikrobiol. 83: 216–236.Google Scholar
  8. Khoja TM, Whitton BA (1971) Heterotrophic growth of blue-green algae. Arch. Mikrobiol. 79: 280–282.Google Scholar
  9. Lang NJ, Krupp JM, Koller AL (1987) Morphological and ultrastructural changes in vegetative cells and heterocysts of Anabaena variabilis grown with fructose. J. Bact. 169: 920–923.Google Scholar
  10. Leach CK, Carr NG (1970) Electron transport and oxidative phosphorylation in the blue-green alga Anabaena variabilis. J. gen. Microbiol. 64: 55–77.Google Scholar
  11. Lee CH, Kim HS, Kwon GS, Oh HM, Kang SM, Kwon TJ, Yoon BD (1995) Purification and characterization of an alkaline protease produced by a Xanthomonas sp. YL-37. J. Microbiol. 33: 115–119.Google Scholar
  12. Marquez FJ, Sasaki K, Kakizono T, Nishio N, Nagai S (1993) Growth characteristics of Spirulina platensis in mixotrophic and heterotrophic conditions. J. Ferment. Bioeng. 76: 408–410.Google Scholar
  13. Marquez FJ, Nishio N, Nagai S, Sasaki K (1995) Enhancement of biomass and pigment production during growth of Spirulina platensis in mixotrophic culture. J. Chem. Tech. Biotechnol. 62: 159–164.Google Scholar
  14. Mühling M, Belay A, Whitton BA (2005) Screening Arthrospira (Spirulina) strains for heterotrophy. J. appl. Phycol. 17.Google Scholar
  15. Mühling M, Harris N, Belay A, Whitton BA (2003) Reversal of helix orientation in the cyanobacterium Arthrospira. J. Phycol. 39: 360–367.Google Scholar
  16. Ogawa T, Terui G (1970) Studies on the growth of Spirulina platensis. (I) On the pure culture of Spirulina platensis. J. Ferment. Technol. 48: 361–367.Google Scholar
  17. Ogawa T, Terui G (1972) Growth kinetics of Spirulina platensis in auxotrophic and mixotrophic cultures. In: Terui G (ed), Fermentation Technology Today, Society of Fermentation Technology, Tokyo, pp. 543–549.Google Scholar
  18. Pearce J, Carr NG (1969) The incorporation and metabolism of glucose by Anabaena variabilis. J. gen. Microbiol. 54: 451–462.Google Scholar
  19. Pelroy RA, Bassham JA (1973) Efficiency of energy conversion by aerobic glucose metabolism in Aphanocapsa 6714. J. Bact. 115: 937–942.Google Scholar
  20. Rippka R (1972) Photoheterotrophy and chemoheterotrophy among unicellular blue-green algae. Arch. Mikrobiol. 87: 93–98.Google Scholar
  21. Stanier RY (1973): Autotrophy and heterotrophy in unicellular blue-green algae. In: Carr NG, Whitton BA (eds), Biology of the Blue-Green Algae, Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 501–518.Google Scholar
  22. Schneegurt MA, Sherman DM, Sherman LA (1997) Growth, physiology, and ultrastructure of a diazotrophic cyanobacterium, Cyanothece sp. strain ATCC 51142, in mixotrophic and chemoheterotrophic cultures. J. Phycol. 33: 632–642.Google Scholar
  23. Tomaselli L, Pelosi E, Paoletti C (1978) Fotoassimilazione di composti organici in Spirulina platensis e S. maxima. In Proceedings of the 18th Congress National Italian Society Microbiology, Fiuggi Terme, Italy.Google Scholar
  24. Vonshak A, Tomaselli L. 2000. Arthrospira (Spirulina): Systematics and ecophysiology. In: Whitton BA, Potts M (eds), The Ecology of Cyanobacteria, Kluwer, Dordrecht, pp. 505–522.Google Scholar
  25. Waterbury JB, Stanier RY (1981) Isolation and growth of cyanobacteria from marine and hypersaline environments. In: Starr MP, Stolp H, Trüper HG, Balows A, Schlegel HG (eds), The Prokaryotes, Vol. 1, Springer-Verlag, Berlin, pp. 247–256.Google Scholar
  26. Zarrouk C (1966) Contribution à l’étude d’une cyanophycée. Influence de divers facteurs physiques et chimiques sur la croissance et la photosynthèse de Spirulina maxima (Setch. et Gardner) Geitl. Ph.D. Thesis, Paris.Google Scholar
  27. Zhang CC, Jeanjean R, Joset F (1998) Obligate phototrophy in cyanobacteria: More than a lack of sugar transport. FEMS Microbiol. Lett. 161: 285–292.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin Mühling
    • 1
    • 3
  • Amha Belay
    • 2
  • Brian A. Whitton
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Biological and Biomedical SciencesUniversity of DurhamDurhamUK
  2. 2.Earthrise NutritionalsUSA
  3. 3.Plymouth Marine LaboratoryPlymouthUK

Personalised recommendations