College of Toledo given cash to struggle dangerous algal blooms

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Algal blooms are a threat to the environment in Lake Erie and a global problem that the university is trying to combat.

TOLEDO, Ohio – The University of Toledo received $ 1.4 million from the US Army Corps of Engineers to develop improved technologies for the early detection and treatment of harmful algal blooms.

Algal blooms are not only an environmental threat in Lake Erie, but also a global problem that environmentalists hope to contain.

“Harmful algal blooms are a growing and costly problem for the nation,” said Dr. Jen Seiter-Moser, assistant technical director of the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center for civil works, environmental technology and natural sciences. “At ERDC we benefit from the cooperation with other partners from the federal government, science and industry. We look forward to working with our UToledo partners to find solutions that can be applied regionally and then scaled for nationwide use. “

Some of the technologies UT tested are new to water treatment plants in northwest Ohio, including:

  • Advanced monitoring sensors and molecular genetic analysis to improve early detection of harmful algal blooms and real-time condition diagnosis; and
  • Nature-inspired biological treatments combined with algicides to attack cyanobacteria and break down toxins produced by cyanobacteria.

The sensors can record the state of health or the physiological state of the cyanobacteria – whether the cyanobacterial cells become fragile and leaky and release their toxins into the water – as well as the concentration of the cyanobacteria and how flowers react to chemicals for water treatment.

“These monitoring sensors from the German company bbe Moldaenke can easily detect when cyanobacterial cells are starting to burst. This could be a powerful tool for water suppliers to react to and minimize the release of toxins,” said Professor Dr. Thomas Bridgeman of Ecology at UToledo College of Science and Mathematics and Director of the UToledo Lake Erie Center.

“In the lake we have harmful algal blooms, but also other bacteria that interact with each other,” said Dr. Youngwoo Seo, Professor of Civil, Environmental and Chemical Engineering at UToledo College of Engineering. “Sometimes cyanobacteria do not produce high levels of toxin even when they are in full bloom. Sometimes we have a small flower but high levels of toxins. “

Water plants are collaborating on the project with the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Ohio State University and Sepro Inc. Participating municipal water treatment plants include Toledo, Bowling Green, Celina, and Oregon.

Dr. Seo leads the three-year project to improve water quality from source to tap.

“We are pleased that our proposed method and new techniques can make real changes for water suppliers and the water quality in the lake,” said Seo. “It has great potential to deal more sustainably with the cyanobacteria and their toxins.”

Dr. Bridgeman will be in charge of monitoring. He will test new instruments called fluoroprobes using algae cultures in the laboratory. In the second phase, they will be used in Lake Erie and finally they will work with water treatment plants to include these instruments in monitoring the spring water.

Dr. Dae-Wook Kang, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UToledo College of Engineering, will lead a molecular approach to developing a robust detection method. He will obtain rich microbial DNA, RNA and metabolome information from samples, which can be an indicator of cell metabolism, and try to better identify the biomarker for the harmful algal bloom.

“Harmful algal blooms are the result of a complex network between cyanobacteria and neighboring competitors such as cyanophages and eukaryotes. By integrating this dynamic microbiome data together with sensory and water chemistry data, we want to develop a tool for the early detection and rapid detection of harmful algal blooms, ”said Kang.

Kang uses molecular techniques to decipher how water conditions affect algal blooms and flowering conditions, and how other microorganisms in the water interact with cyanobacteria and affect flowering conditions.

This analysis will help better understand what triggers toxin gene production by cyanobacteria.

Seo focuses on the mitigation and toxin removal method of treatment. His laboratory works on biodegrading cyanobacteria and their toxins using naturally occurring bacteria and viruses from the lake and NSF-approved chemical treatments.

“Once we discover the harmful algal bloom, we will try to reduce the algal bloom at an early stage by using bacteria and algicides from the cyanobacteria and their toxin directly in the lake to control the spread of the toxin,” said Seo. “We’re working with Ohio State University microbiologists who have isolated various cyanobacterial viruses and are evaluating their effectiveness in combating harmful algal blooms.”

According to Seo, the goal is to introduce new techniques to reduce harmful algal blooms through early detection and to work with water treatment plants to optimize and improve their treatment methods.