Bacterial toxins

Bacterial communities are very common in deserts, in particular cyanobacteria (photosynthetic bacteria), which are primary organisms that produce the stabilising crust. Terrestrial cyanobacteria are known to produce toxins, along with their aquatic counterparts composed of Microcoleus and Phormidium, are also capable of producing hepatotoxins and neurotoxins. They grow as large coverings staying dormant during dry periods and then re-activate and grow when the limited rains of the desert occur. In addition to cyanobacteria, a wide variety of bacterial Phyla have been observed in desert materials, including Proteobacteria, Actinobacteria, and Acidobacteria, with other bacterial Phyla present in lower numbers (Nagy et al., 2005). The research being performed in the TiDE network also includes the study of bacterial diversity of desert ecosystems in the State of Qatar. Although little research has been performed on what toxins are present in desert ecosystems, a great deal of understanding exists as to the types of microorganisms that are present in desert dust. This is particularly important as dust storms are common events in areas with a high proportion of deserts. This area of biological research was well reviewed by Griffin (2007).


Cyanobacteria can produce a number of toxins including neurotoxins and hepatotoxins.

Nagy, M.L., PĂ©rez, A., Garcia-Pichel, F. (2005). The prokaryotic diversity of biological soil crusts in the Sonoran Desert (Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, AZ). FEMS Microbiology Ecology 54: 233-245.

Griffin, D.W. (2007). Atmospheric movement of microorganisms in clouds of desert dust and implications for human health. Clinical Microbiology Reviews 20: 459-477.