NSU explore harmful algae blooms to better understand their origins and management

They are bluish-green, stinky and yucky.

We're talking algae blooms, that phenomenon that happens in waterways around Florida. And since 2019, researchers at Nova Southeastern University's (NSU) Halmos College of Arts and Sciences have been studying them with the primary goal to find out why they occur.

Once we understand what makes these blooms occur, we can work to determine how to not only deal with them when they do, but what steps can be taken to help avoid them in the first place."

Jose Lopez, Ph.D., NSU research scientist and principal investigator on the project

Harmful algae blooms (HABs) can choke off the life in the waterways in which they occur, and they can pose a threat to humans on land because when the photosynthetic bacteria die off, they can release toxins. The Molecular Microbiology and Genomics (MMG) Laboratory at NSU's Guy Harvey Oceanographic Center has been studying HAB microbial communities in Lake Okeechobee in order to better understand their origins and management.

Along with Lopez, the research was conducted by Lauren Krausfeldt, Ph.D., who joined the NSU lab as a postdoctoral research scientist. As part of this research project, Krausfeldt rigorously applied the latest molecular genomics methods to the HAB problem. The primary findings of this work are still being fully analyzed, but they include:

  • There are many cyanobacterial species in the community, not just the one species, that may be causing the bloom. Therefore, there are dynamics between community members that we are trying to understand which regulate how a bloom occurs.
  • Bacterial viruses (phage) may also be regulating the community and bloom.
  • However, the bloom bacteria, Microcystis, has CRISPR genes that can defend against the phages and give them advantage and allow them to bloom.
  • A metagenomics approach has mainly revealed the above discoveries, because it does not rely on directly growing live cells. We can infer function and roles by reading the DNA and specific genes.

You can read the full article in science.org.

"The project has been highly collaborative, as we have worked with various scientists and students from the U.S. Geological Survey and Florida Gulf Coast University, and we are seeing the fruits of our work now," said Lopez.

Lopez said that the ultimate goal is to better understand the dynamics of microbial interactions, what factors may create imbalances, and thus help managers alleviate HABs on our precious freshwater ecosystems.

Source:
Journal reference:

Pennis, E., (2022) To tame lake-fouling algal blooms, try an ecosystem approach. Science. doi.org/10.1126/science.add8253.

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