Lake Erie Center for the Great Lakes and Human Health

NIEHS Grant: P01ES028939

George Bullerjahn, Ph.D.

The Lake Erie Center for the Great Lakes and Human Health is focused on chronic cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (cHAB) of Lake Erie. These algal blooms can produce toxins that harm human health. Center researchers are identifying environmental factors that drive cHAB and examining how climate change may affect cHAB growth and toxicity of cyanobacteria during bloom events. This research continues to build on Bowling Green State University research in response to the 2014 Toledo Water Crisis in which Toledo’s water supply was contaminated with cHAB toxins. The integrated research projects are characterizing climate and agricultural factors that influence growth of cHAB organisms, identifying new toxins and mechanisms of toxicity, and improving cHAB monitoring and forecasting models to better predict toxic blooms.

Integrating in-situ detection technologies and developing data assimilation strategies to improve forecast accuracy and assess climate change impacts for Microcystis blooms in Lake Erie

Project Leader: Thomas Bridgeman, Ph.D.

This research team is integrating detection and sampling technologies to improve monitoring of cHABs. This system will be designed to provide high-resolution cHAB detection and real-time monitoring measurements. This data will be used in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) advanced cHAB forecasting model to improve bloom prediction accuracy to better protect human health and the environment. This data will be made publicly available for use by water managers and other stakeholders.

Discovery and characterization of new toxins in genomes and metagenomes of bloom-forming cyanobacteria

Project Leader: Gregory Dick, Ph.D.

Cyanobacteria that form algal blooms produce known toxins that can cause human illness, and these blooms might also produce other harmful toxins that have not yet been identified. Three labs are collaborating to identify novel toxins that might otherwise escape detection in water quality assessments. Researchers will analyze large numbers of genes using genomics and metagenomics, and then identify specific genes to analyze further for biological activity related to human disease. To analyze and synthesize the data, researchers will create a next-generation database that provides a network of relationships between their environmental, genomic, and experimental data.

The synergistic effects of climate and anthropogenic drivers on toxic cyanobacterial blooms

Project Leader: George Bullerjahn, Ph.D.

In Lake Erie, two distinct types of cyanobacteria, Microcystis and Planktothrix, both produce a liver toxin called microcystin, and both can form cHABs. However, their blooms show very different growth characteristics. Microcystis blooms in offshore water whereas Planktothrix blooms on nearshore embankments. Researchers will study how water nitrogen content and temperature affect growth and toxin production for both types of cyanobacteria. They will also identify other microbes in bloom populations to determine which organisms encourage cHAB development, persistence, and decline. This information will provide insights to develop ways to control these types of cHABs and reduce human exposures.