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Differential responses of Nostoc sphaeroides and Arthrospira platensis to solar ultraviolet radiation exposure


During October to December 2003 we carried out experiments to assess the impact of high solar radiation levels (as normally occurring in a tropical region of Southern China) on the cyanobacteria Nostoc sphaeroides and Arthrospira (Spirulina) platensis. Two types of experiments were done: a) Short-term (i.e., 20 min) oxygen production of samples exposed to two radiation treatments (i.e., PAR+UVR—280–700 nm, and PAR only—400–700 nm, PAB and P treatments, respectively), and b) Long-term (i.e., 12 days) evaluation of photosynthetic quantum yield (Y) of samples exposed to three radiation treatments (i.e., PAB; PA (PAR+UV-A, 320–700 nm) and P treatments, respectively). N. sphaeroides was resistant to UVR, with no significant differences (P>0.05) in oxygen production within 20 min of exposure, but with a slight inhibition of Y within hours. A fast recovery of Y was observed after one day even in samples exposed to full solar radiation. A. platensis, on the other hand, was very sensitive to solar radiation (mainly to UV-B), as determined by oxygen production and Y measurements. A. platensis had a circadian rhythm of photosynthetic inhibition, and during the first six days of exposure to solar radiation, it varied between 80 and 100% at local noon, but cells recovered significantly during afternoon hours. There was a significant decrease in photosynthetic inhibition after the first week of exposure with values less than 50% at local noon in samples receiving full solar radiation. Samples exposed to PA and P treatments recovered much faster (within 2–3 days), and there were no significant differences in Y between the three radiation treatments when irradiance was low (late afternoon to early morning). Long-term acclimation seems to be important in A. platensis to cope with high UVR levels however, it is not attained through the synthesis of UV-absorbing compounds but it seems to be mostly related to adaptive morphological changes.

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Maximal fluorescence in dark-adapted cells (all reaction centers are closed)


Initial chlorophyll fluorescence in dark-adapted cells (all reaction centers are open)


Variable fluorescence (= Fm-Fo)


Fm' and Fv': The same for light-adapted state


Current fluorescence of light-adapted cells


Photosynthetic Active radiation (400–700 nm)


Ultraviolet-A radiation (315–400 nm)


Ultraviolet-B radiation (280–315 nm)


Ultraviolet radiation (280–400 nm)


Fv'/Fm': Quantum yield (Genty-parameter).


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Correspondence to E. Walter Helbling.

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Helbling, E.W., Gao, K., Ai, H. et al. Differential responses of Nostoc sphaeroides and Arthrospira platensis to solar ultraviolet radiation exposure. J Appl Phycol 18, 57–66 (2006).

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Key words

  • Arthrospira platensis
  • cyanobacteria
  • Nostoc sphaeroides
  • oxygen evolution
  • photosynthesis
  • Spirulina
  • UVR