Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2013OH292B

Source tracking of Microcystis blooms in Lake Erie and its tributaries

Institute: Ohio
Year Established: 2013 Start Date: 2013-01-03 End Date: 2015-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $6,013 Total Non-Federal Funds: $12,027

Principal Investigators: George Bullerjahn

Abstract: Some bloom-forming cyanobacteria, especially Microcystis, can produce toxic microcystins (MCs). These toxins have been linked with human health issues (gastroenteritis, cancer, mortality), livestock/wildlife/fish mortality and avian botulism. Science links most blooms with excessive phosphorus (P) inputs from human activities but has failed to predict when/why blooms are toxic, or to resolve the roles of nitrogen (N) and N:P ratios. Current monitoring and management cannot adequately address the likelihood of toxin production because bloom composition varies and the methods used cannot distinguish between toxin and non-toxin producers. Because we lack tools to predict, monitor, and control these blooms and their toxicity, risk management is largely reactive. Advances in genomics now allow the development of high resolution molecular methods for source tracking toxic and non-toxic Microcystis genotypes, and evaluating the role of N in toxin gene activation. Specifically, we will use molecular markers such as toxin genes (mcyA) and the global N regulatory gene, ntcA, to assess phylogenetics of Microcystis populations in the Lake Erie watershed. Following ntcA and mcyA expression by RT-PCR will serve as proxies for toxin production under changing nutrient (N) status of bloom events. Our research will employ these methods in Lake Erie, an ecosystem supporting multi-million dollar fisheries, recreational and tourist industries. The proposed work will make significant progress towards elucidating the primary factors contributing to blooms, leading to further research regarding the forecasting of toxic blooms across Ohio.