Cyanobacterial growth and cyanophycin production with urea and ammonium as nitrogen source

Canizales, S.; Sliwszcinka, M.; Russo, A.; Bentvelzen, S.; Temmink, H.; Verschoor, A.M.; Wijffels, R.H.; Janssen, M.


Several technologies have aimed to recover nitrogen directly from urine. Nitrogen recovery in these technologies was limited by the mismatch of the nitrogen-phosphorus molar ratio (N:P) of urine, being 30–46:1, and that of the final product, e.g., 1:1 in struvite and 16–22:1 in microalgae biomass. Additionally, the high nitrogen concentrations found in urine can be inhibitive for growth of microorganisms. Cyanobacteria were expected to overcome phosphorus (P) limitation in urine given their ability to store an N-rich polymer called cyanophycin. In this study, it was found that the model cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC6803 did not experience significant growth inhibition when cultivated in synthetic medium with concentrations of 0.5 g ammonium-N L−1. In the case of urea, no inhibition was observed when having it as sole nitrogen source, but it resulted in chlorosis of the cultures when the process reached stationary phase. Synechocystis was successfully cultivated in a medium with 0.5 g ammonium-N L−1 and a N:P ratio of 276:1, showing the N:P flexibility of this biomass, reaching biomass N:P ratios up to 92:1. Phosphorus starvation resulted in cyanophycin accumulation up to 4%. Dilution of the culture in fresh medium with the addition of 118 mg N L−1 and 1.5 mg P L−1 (N:P of 174:1) resulted in a rapid and transient cyanophycin accumulation up to 11%, after which cyanophycin levels rapidly decreased to 3%.