Army Corps of Engineers awards UToledo $ 1.4 million to develop new methods to combat toxic algae

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PICTURE: From left: Dr. Thomas Bridgeman, Professor of Ecology at UToledo College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and Director of the UToledo Lake Erie Center; Dr Youngwoo Seo, professor of … see After

Credit: Daniel Miller, University of Toledo

The US Army Corps of Engineers awarded researchers at the University of Toledo $ 1.4 million to develop improved technology for the early detection and management of harmful algal blooms, the environmental threat of Lake Erie and a problem global.

Dr Youngwoo Seo, professor of civil and environmental engineering and chemical engineering at UToledo College of Engineering, is leading the three-year project to improve the quality of water from source to tap.

Some of the technologies and techniques tested by UToledo are new to water treatment plants in the Western Hemisphere. Water treatment plants in Northwest Ohio are collaborating on the project with the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Ohio State University, and Sepro Inc. The treatment plants participating municipal waters include Toledo, Bowling Green, Celina and Oregon.

The project consists of two different parts working together:

  • Advanced monitoring sensors and molecular genetic analyzes to improve the early detection of harmful algal blooms and the ability to diagnose the condition in real time; and
  • Nature-inspired biological treatment methods combined with algaecides to attack cyanobacteria and break down toxins produced by cyanobacteria.

“We are delighted that the proposed method and new techniques can bring real changes to the water services and the water quality of the lake,” said Seo. “It has great potential to be a more sustainable way to deal with cyanobacteria and their toxins.”

“Harmful algal blooms are a growing and costly problem affecting the nation,” said Dr. Jen Seiter-Moser, acting technical director of the U.S. Army Engineering Research and Development Center for the work of civil engineering, environmental engineering and science. “At ERDC, we benefit from collaboration with other federal, university and industrial partners. We look forward to working with our UToledo partners to find solutions that can be applied regionally and then extended for national application.

Dr Thomas Bridgeman, professor of ecology at UToledo College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and director of the UToledo Lake Erie Center, will lead the monitoring. First, it will test new instruments called fluorinated probes in the lab using algae cultures. The second step will be to use them in Lake Erie, and finally to work with the water treatment plants to integrate these instruments as part of their monitoring of water sources.

The sensors can detect the health or physiological state of cyanobacteria – whether the cyanobacterial cells become fragile and leak, releasing their toxins into the water – as well as the concentration of cyanobacteria and the response of the blooms to the treatment chemicals. water.

“These monitoring sensors made by German company bbe Moldaenke are able to easily detect when cyanobacterial cells start to rupture, which could be a powerful tool for water utility managers to respond and minimize the release of toxins, ”said Bridgeman.

Dr Dae-Wook Kang, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at UToledo College of Engineering, will lead a molecular approach to develop a robust detection method. It will obtain rich information on microbial DNA, RNA and metabolism from samples, which can be an indicator of cell metabolism, and will attempt to better identify the biomarker of harmful algal blooms.

“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 with chemical data from sensors and water, we aim to develop a tool for early and rapid detection of harmful algal blooms, ”Kang says.

“In the lake we have harmful algal blooms, but also other bacteria that interact with each other,” Seo said. “Sometimes cyanobacteria do not produce high concentrations of toxins, even when the overgrowth is large. Sometimes we have a small overgrowth, but have high concentrations of toxins.”

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

This analysis will help to better understand what triggers the production of cyanobacterial toxin genes.

Seo focuses on the mitigation and treatment method for the elimination of toxins. His laboratory works on the biological degradation of cyanobacteria and their toxins using natural bacteria and viruses from the lake and chemical treatments approved by the NSF.

“Once we have detected the harmful algal blooms, we will try to reduce the algal bloom in the early stages, using bacterial and algaecide treatments of the cyanobacteria and their toxin directly into the lake to control the spread of the toxin, ”Seo said. “We are collaborating with microbiologists at Ohio State University who have isolated various viruses from cyanobacteria, and we are evaluating their effectiveness in controlling harmful algal blooms.”

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

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