Although cyanobacteria are essential microorganisms on earth, some cyanobacteria produce toxins known as cyanotoxins, threatening humans and animals’ health. Hence, it is imperative to rapidly and accurately identify those toxic cyanobacteria. Unfortunately, traditional microscopic methods have limitations for accurate identification due to the lack of discernable morphological difference between toxic and non-toxic strains within the same cyanobacterial species or genus. In contrast, their genetic profiles are inherently conserved; therefore, nucleic acid-based assays can be more reliable for precise identification. Furthermore, molecular assays can provide high throughput and significantly reduce the turnaround time of test results. Such advantages make those assays a preferred method for rapid detection and early warning of potential toxicity. Toxigenic cyanobacterial species have synthetase genes (DNAs) for toxin production, which can be excellent marker genes. Numerous molecular assays targeting cyanotoxin synthetase genes have been developed for the identification of toxigenic cyanobacteria at various taxonomic levels. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based assays are the most prevailing. Among different versions of PCR assays, the real-time quantitative PCR can be utilized to quantify the genes of interest in samples, fulfilling the purpose of both taxonomic recognition and biomass estimation. Reverse transcription (RT)-PCR assays can be used to detect transcripts (i.e., mRNAs) from toxin synthetase genes, probably enhancing the predictive value of PCR detection for toxin production from observed cyanobacterial species. Nevertheless, the utility of toxin synthetase gene- or its transcript-based PCR assays for routine cyanotoxin monitoring needs to be further evaluated on a large scale.
Part of the book: Cyanobacteria