Dynamic polyphosphate metabolism in cyanobacteria responding to phosphorus availability

Jiying Li, Maria Dittrich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Scopus citations


Despite the crucial role of polyphosphate (polyP) in aquatic environments, its metabolism in cyanobacteria responding to nutrients is poorly understood. We investigate polyP in three cyanobacteria species, specifically unicellular picocyanobacteria, under various nutritional conditions. Our experiments show that the accumulation of polyP in cyanobacteria is strongly dynamic, depending on phosphate levels and growth stages. ‘Overplus’ uptake of phosphorus (P) during the lag phase leads to the rapid accumulation of polyP, followed by lower polyP quotas during the exponential growth stage as a result of competing ‘luxury’ P uptake and polyP utilization to support rapid cell division. Cyanobacteria are capable of P deficiency responses that preferentially maintain polyP. However, preferential utilization of polyP occurs under severe P stress, suggesting the crucial role of polyP as P reserve to support cellular survival. Strong variability was observed among different species of cyanobacteria in their ability to accumulate polyP, and likely in the threshold P levels at which preferential polyP degradation occurs. This suggests that some cyanobacteria may be more adaptive to P-stressed or P-fluctuating conditions. Our results explain and provide important insights into the variability of polyP observed in aquatic environments where picocyanobacteria are the dominant primary producers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)572-583
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental microbiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

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