Utility of a PCR-based method for rapid and specific detection of toxigenic Microcystis spp. in farm ponds

Jian Yuan, Hyun Joong Kim, Christopher T. Filstrup, Baoqing Guo, Paula Imerman, Steve Ensley, Kyoung Jin Yoon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Microcystis is a widespread freshwater cyanobacterium that can produce microcystin, a potent hepatotoxin harmful to animals and humans. Therefore, it is crucial to monitor for the presence of toxigenic Microcystis spp. to provide early warning of potential microcystin contamination. Microscopy, which has been used traditionally to identify Microcystis spp., cannot differentiate toxigenic from non-toxigenic Microcystis. We developed a PCR-based method to detect toxigenic Microcystis spp. based on detection of the microcystin synthetase C (mcyC) gene and 16S rRNA gene. Specificity was validated against toxic and nontoxic M. aeruginosa strains, as well as 4 intergeneric freshwater cyanobacterial strains. Analytical sensitivity was as low as 747 fg/µL genomic DNA (or 3 cells/µL) for toxic M. aeruginosa. Furthermore, we tested 60 water samples from 4 farm ponds providing drinking water to swine facilities in the midwestern United States using this method. Although all water samples were positive for Microcystis spp. (i.e., 16S rRNA gene), toxigenic Microcystis spp. were detected in only 34 samples (57%). Seventeen water samples contained microcystin (0.1–9.1 μg/L) determined with liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry, of which 14 samples (82%) were positive for mcyC. A significant correlation was found between the presence of toxigenic Microcystis spp. and microcystin in water samples (p = 0.0004). Our PCR method can be a low-cost molecular tool for rapid and specific identification of toxigenic Microcystis spp. in farm ponds, improving detection of microcystin contamination, and ensuring water safety for farm animals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)369-381
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: The study was supported in part by funding from the Innovative Swine Industry Enhancement Grant Program by Iowa Attorney General’s Office, Iowa State University (ISU) Health Research Initiative, and ISU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory Research Support Fund.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s).


  • PCR
  • mcyC
  • microcystin
  • toxigenic Microcystis spp

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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