A Not So Sweet Bloom: Microcystis

Diane and I made it to a Fisheries and Wildlife seminar talk given today by Geoff Horst. Horst is a doctoral candidate who is researching algal blooms in lakes. The particular organism of interest is Microcystis, a cyanobacteria and common biotic component of lakes. The problem is that Microcystis manufactures microcystins, toxins that can cause at least discomfort in swimmers and serious illness or death in vertebrates that actually drink water where a Microcystis bloom is happening.

It appears that Microcystis blooms may be assisted by abundance of zebra mussels in an area. The zebra and quagga mussels may selectively harvest other planktonic organisms and reject Microcystis colonies.

Something Horst is looking into is whether some less time-consuming means of evaluating water samples can indicate the likelihood of a future bloom — before it becomes a past bloom. That is, current methods take so much time that they inevitably only permit one to confirm that a bloom happened some time in the past, not that a bloom is likely to occur at some point in the future. There appears to be some promise in using an enzymatic marker, one that lights up when organisms are expressing a particular enzyme used to harvest phosphorus. This was another part of Horst’s work, establishing that an inverse relationship existed between phosphorus-limited populations and algal blooms: the less available phosphorus, the less likely a bloom was. Between the two, Horst thinks that he may be able to establish a technique for actually getting to predict likely bloom conditions.

This is pretty new to us. While we were aware of things like the domoic-acid sensitivity of California sea lions, the notion of having toxic blooms in freshwater just isn’t something that we’ve had as a possibility for personal experience before. We hope Geoff Horst has good luck in finishing up his research and finding some information that can be applied to this problem.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.