< Our Work < Projects < BGSU-HABs < 2022

Advanced Studies Institute on Water Quality and Harmful Algal blooms in lake victoria, Kenya

2022 Program

 

2022 Program Specifics

Cyanobacteria, commonly referred to as blue-green algae, can grow to dense concentrations in lakes, rivers, ponds and reservoirs across the globe forming what are known as cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (cyanoHABs; Figure 1; Bullerjahn et al., 2016).  Furthermore, many cyanoHABs can produce toxins that can sicken or kill humans, cattle and other domestic animals.  Indeed, in the last decade major cities in China, the United States, Africa and other parts of the globe have suffered from impaired drinking water due to cyanoHABs (Sitoki et al., 2012; Steffen et al., 2017). Also, many of these cyanoHABs are comprised of the same organism, Microcystis spp., which previous studies have determined to be the most ubiquitous cyanoHAB-forming genus (Harke et al., 2016), and currently it is unclear how Microcystis adjusts its ecological strategies to maintain dominance for long periods of time in lakes from temperate to tropical regions.  Therefore, it is critical to conduct parallel research in comparable lakes from different latitudes to further understand the global ecology of the bloom-forming cyanobacterium, Microcystis spp.

The proposed Advanced Studies Institutes (ASI) will focus on expanding the knowledge of water quality and the Microcystis-dominated cyanoHAB that occurs in Kisumu Bay, Nyanza Gulf, Lake Victoria, Kenya and provide the opportunity for US-based students to expand their research and collaborations into this regionally-important, yet understudied system.  The proposed ASI will leverage current research programs in western Lake Erie, led by Bowling Green State University, and in Kisumu Bay, led by Kisii University, Technical University of Kenya and the

Left: Satellite image of the annual cyanobacterial (Microcystis spp.) bloom in Lake Erie, USA (Photo: NASA/NOAA). Center: View of Lake Taihu toxic cyanobacterial (Microcystis spp.) bloom during Sept, 2016 (Photo: T. Davis). Right: Microcystis spp. bloom along with daily activities in Kisumu Bay, Nyanza Gulf, Lake Victoria, Kenya (Photo: T. Lawrence).

Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI).  Western Lake Erie and Kisumu Bay are similar in that they are both shallow, eutrophic systems that experience Microcystis-dominated cyanoHABs.  However, they are different in that Lake Erie is a temperate system dominated by non-point nutrient sources, whereas Kisumu Bay is a tropical system that receives a mixture of point source (urban) and non-point source nutrient pollution. 

 

The proposed Advanced Studies Institute will focus on expanding the knowledge of water quality and the Microcystis-dominated cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (cyanoHABs) that occur in Kisumu Bay, Nyanza Gulf,  Lake Victoria, Kenya and provide the opportunity for US-based students to expand their research and collaborations into this regionally-important yet, understudied, system.  The proposed ASI will leverage current research programs in western Lake Erie, led by Bowling Green State University, and in Kisumu Bay, led by Kisii University, Technical University of Kenya and Kenya Marine Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI).

 

This program’s major component is to go into the field in Eastern Lake Victoria for field research so that students can gain field exposure (sampling techniques), laboratory exposure (sample assessment), expand global view, learn more about HABS, identify similarities and differences of various systems, and work with scientists and students with distinct and various views. In the spirit of scientific inquiry and growth, participants will be paired with a Kenyan counterpart during the field portion of this program and expected to work with that counterpart on subsequent activities, such as data processes, writing papers, and potentially presentations.

 

Please be mindful that this program, for some, will present uncommon and unconventional situations regarding culture, environment, and politics.

 

Applying to the 2022 program

I am a Kenyan interested

in the program

I am a U.S. Student interested

in the program

If you are a student studying freshwater cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (CHABs) (or closely related studies) on large freshwater lakes, we welcome you to apply to this program. Please carefully read the below. To see a desription of the program and determine if you meet the criteria, please click on the appropriate application link. 

 

2022 Participants

The U.S. participants for the 2022 Field Program have been chosen

(see below).

To apply to the 2023 program revisit this page next year.

Hunter Baylous

Masters Candidate

James Madison University

Harrisonburg, Virgina

USA

Research Title

Metatranscriptomic analysis of a M. aeruginosa bloom for auxin-induced growth and toxin production.

My research is focusing on how a species of cyanobacteria, Microcystis aeruginosa, potentially interacts with an auxin produced by bacteria during harmful algal blooms. The auxin, called Indole-3-Acetic acid, is a compound synthesized from tryptophan by several bacterial species that are present in Microcystis-dominated harmful algal blooms. I am looking to see if this auxin promotes growth and toxin production of M. aeruginosa within Microcystis-dominated harmful algal blooms. To do this, I will be using metatranscriptomic analysis to look at the gene expression of both Microcystis and the bacterial species in response to treatments of tryptophan and IAA, to understand the potential implications that this has on the blooms.

Katelyn Brown

Ph.D. Candidate

Bowling Green State University

Bowling Green, Ohio

USA

Research Title

Rapid, portable and multiplexed detection of freshwater harmful algal bloom-forming genera

Harmful algal blooms (HABs) are becoming more common around the world due to excess nutrient loads, eutrophication, and the changing climate. HABs generally occur in systems with high nutrient concentrations, but other factors including lake morphology and temperature also contribute to the growth and development of cyanobacteria. Oftentimes, HABs result in the production of toxins like microcystins, cylindrospermopsins, anatoxins, and saxitoxins, that are harmful to living organisms. To better identify and manage blooms, a multiplexed sandwich hybridization assay (SHA) for use on the Lightdeck system will be developed to quickly recognize 7 prominent genera of cyanobacteria. The genera being targeted for SHA includes Microcystis, Anabaena/Dolichospermum, Aphanizomenon, Planktothrix, Cylindrospermopsis, Lyngbya/Microseira, and Phormidium/Microcoleus. To achieve this multiplexed assay, oligonucleotide probes are designed to target the 16S rRNA. If the target genera are present in a sample, an estimate of cell density will be determined from fluorescence. These probes will also utilize zip codes, an additional oligonucleotide probe that will allow multiplexing and will enhance assay sensitivity. In comparison to traditional methods, the SHA will be able to identify potentially toxin-producing genera more quickly and at a lower cost to lake managers.

Jonathan DeMarco

Ph.D. Candidate

Bowling Green State University

Bowling Green, Ohio

USA

Research Title

Bioaccumulation of Cyanotoxins in Freshwater Systems

HABs, hypoxia, and eutrophication occur in waters where excessive nutrient loads are present, resulting in the production of cyanotoxins such as microcystins, saxitoxins, and anatoxin-a; which threaten aquatic life in the lake. This study couples tributary and open lake sampling with HydroCycle-PO4 sensors in order to determine the source of nutrient loads for Chautauqua Lake. This information will be essential for the development of a lake management plan. The algal composition within the lake is analyzed by fluoroprobe differentiating algae taxonomic groups and quantified through dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) chlorophyll extraction. The dominant bloom-forming algae in summertime are the cyanobacteria Gloeotrichia and Microcystis, the latter genus responsible for producing microcystins, as measured by ELISA. At this point in the study, we have observed that the majority of the phosphorus loading arises from the lake sediments, with a few tributaries contributing significant loading as well. This project is the first study conducted on Chautauqua Lake in several decades that will locate sources of nutrients in order to inform future mitigation efforts. An additional goal of this project is to inform the Chautauqua community about potential threats to pets, livestock and humans due to cyanotoxin exposure. For my dissertation research I will focus on the bioaccumulation of different cyanotoxins produced in freshwater bodies such as Lake Victoria, Lake Erie, and Lake Chautauqua. Lesser is known about the impacts of anatoxin-a and saxitoxin bioaccumulation so this would be interesting to investigate on lakes of differing scales and geographic location.

Jennifer Harper

Ph.D. Candidate

Bowling Green State University

Bowling Green, Ohio

USA

Research Title

Heterotrophic microbial diversity of the Maumee River and its effect on Lake Erie Biogeochemistry

Rivers are critically important waterways that provide vital ecosystem services and serve as linkages between terrestrial ecosystems and other bodies of water. Rivers transport upstream and terrestrially derived contaminants, nutrients, organic matter, and sediments to downstream ecosystems which include other rivers, lakes, and oceans. River plumes, regions of dynamic biogeochemical and physical processes, are regions where buoyant river water meets lakes or oceans. Recently, anthropogenic sources have increased the concentrations of nutrients that are delivered to lakes. At the lotic-lentic interface, nutrient inputs and increased microbial biomass result in turbid conditions. Further from a river plume where sedimentation occurs and turbidity decreases, optimal conditions (high nutrient and light availability) are created for phytoplankton blooms, especially during the summer months. In Lake Erie (USA), cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (cHABs) frequently form in the western basin of the lake where shallower depths as well as increased temperature and nutrients fuel phytoplankton growth. These cHABs impact ecosystems, often creating hypoxic or anoxic zones, and produce potent toxins that can disrupt water supplies and harm the health of animals and humans. Most notably, the city of Toledo (Ohio, USA) was issued a ‘do not drink’ order for their water supply in August 2014, leaving approximately 400,000 residents of the city without potable water for about two days. This was due to large quantities of microcystin, a liver toxin created by Microcystis cyanobacteria, that infiltrated the city’s water intake in the lake. While the causes that lead to cHAB formation are well-studied, relatively little is known about the remaining microbial community that may be integral in the ecology of cHAB formation and persistence. The purpose of my research is to use field sampling, laboratory studies, omics, and extracellular enzyme activity assays to answer the following questions: 1) How does remineralization of river dissolved organic matter (DOM) provision phytoplankton with carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P)?, 2) Do heterotrophic bacteria and/or fungi provide phytoplankton with critical precursors?, and 3) Does remineralization of phytoplankton exudate DOM sustain algal bloom duration? These questions are ecologically important as they may provide further insight into the conditions that fuel cHAB formation and persistence in western Lake Erie.

Kaela Natwora

Ph.D. Candidate

University of Minnesota-Duluth

Duluth, Minnesota

USA

Research Title

The physiological and transcriptional response of cHABs to varying environmental conditions

Cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (cHABs) are increasing in frequency, duration, and severity in freshwater ecosystems. As of 2018, cHABs have been documented in all five of the Laurentian Great Lakes (LGL). Given the sheer scale of the LGL, employing basin-wide approaches, including spatial and temporal methods, is impractical and restrictive to understanding drivers of cHAB formation and toxicity. With over 10,000 inland lakes spanning broad gradients of latitude, land use, trophic status, and thermal regimes, the state of Minnesota represents a unique natural laboratory for exploring a wide range of potential environmental stressors on cHABs. Using an integrative, multidisciplinary approach, we aim to identity mechanisms and drivers promoting cHAB development and toxicity. Molecular tools including metagenomics and metatranscriptomics, comprehensive environmental surveys, and cyanotoxin profiles will be used to explore relationships between environmental stressors, cHAB composition, and cyanotoxin production. While the inland lakes of Minnesota provide a testing bed to understand broad scale environmental drivers in an ecosystem setting, it is also imperative to understand drivers and processes on the organismal level. Using the N-fixing Dolichospermum, isolated from the Lake Superior bloom in 2018, we determined that it is genetically similar to genomes recovered from Lakes Erie and Ontario. Our previous work shows N-fixing microorganisms are ubiquitous across the LGL, and highly active during algal blooms. Together this emphasizes the ecological heterogeneity of Dolichospermum, and suggests it is phenotypically plastic, as it can persist in a range of ecosystems. The widening of its geographic distribution beyond the LGL and North America suggest the existence of different ecotypes. Thus, we sought to characterize the physiological response of N fixation in Dolichospermum and transcriptional patterns to nutrient conditions similar the LGL and show its variable response across nutrient conditions and temperature regimes. Collectively, the statewide field survey and pure culture laboratory experiments will provide insight to microbial processes and environmental drivers that promote cHABs growth and toxicity.

Michelle Neudeck

Ph.D. Candidate

Bowling Green State University

Bowling Green, Ohio

USA

Research Title

Bacterial Physiology and Community Interactions of Freshwater Cyanobacterial Algal Blooms

Cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms (cHABs) are prevalent all over the world. These blooms can produce cyanotoxins, such as microcystin, that can impair lakes as sources for drinking water and recreation.  In order to effectively and efficiently manage these algal blooms it is essential to understand the organisms associated with the blooms. How those organisms interact within those communities could give indications of what nutrients or conditions can be manipulated to decrease the severity of these blooms.  Sandusky Bay of Lake Erie and Grand Lake St. Marys have been plagued by cHABs for numerous years. Water samples were taken from a set of sites at set intervals during the summer from 2015 to 2020 in Sandusky Bay. Water samples were taken for testing of chlorophyll a, fluoroprobe readings, microcystin concentrations, and nutrient concentrations. Water was also filtered for DNA and RNA extractions. DNA was sent for amplicon sequencing to track the 16s and 18s communities. RNA was sent for metatranscriptomic sequencing in order to determine differential expression of genes from various sites throughout the season. A fractionation experiment is being conducted between Sandusky Bay and Grand Lake St. Marys. Both lakes experience consistent blooms of Planktothrix agardhii. The experiment consists of amplicon sequencing of water filtered through a 0.22µm Sterivex filter for a complete community record, water gravity filtered through a 20µm filter, and the filtrate being further filtrated through a 0.22µm Sterivex filter. The results will show what communities are associated with the larger clusters of organisms and which are free-living smaller organisms. It is of interest whether the communities of the two Planktothrix blooms are the same or different in these two bodies of water.

Jordyn Stoll

Ph.D. Candidate

Kent State University

Kent, Ohio

USA

Research Title

Investigating the role of macro and micronutrients on algal community processes

With global anthropogenic nutrient enrichment of aquatic systems accelerating, a holistic view of nutrient influence on primary producers is needed to inform management decisions and ultimately protect aquatic resources. By conducting nutrient enrichment experiments, ecologists can begin to determine the degree of effect various nutrients inflict on community processes. While the effect of macronutrients (N, P) on aquatic primary producer community processes is well studied, and the role of micronutrients (Fe, trace metals) is known, the magnitude that micronutrients affect primary producers in freshwater ecosystems is severely understudied. Furthermore, many nutrient enrichment experiments only quantify the effect of nutrients on growth, ignoring processes related to toxin production, metabolism and other key ecosystem processes that may provide insight into the underlying physiological pathways that are nutrient limited. Eutrophication has been linked to the global increase in harmful cyanobacterial blooms in lentic systems; however, there are conflicting findings regarding what nutrient is driving bloom formation. While macronutrients are essential for primary producers, there are roughly 25 other elements (micronutrients) that are utilized for various metabolic processes. Micronutrients act as gatekeepers, as they are essential cofactors in metalloenzymes and can directly limit the metabolic processes they are involved in when at limiting concentrations in the environment.

My dissertation is focused on the direct and indirect effects of micronutrients and macronutrients on algal community composition, growth, toxin production and enzyme (alkaline phosphatase & urease) activity in lakes and streams. To assess the effect of nutrients on phytoplankton and biofilm community functions, a series of nutrient enrichment experiments have been used both in situ and within mesocosms. Quantification of enzyme activity, community composition and metabolic processes alongside growth allows me to tease apart what processes are limited or driven by nutrients, and determine if nutrients interact to influence these processes. By determining the magnitude of effect micronutrient enrichment has on various aquatic primary producer community processes, my dissertation work will help fill the micronutrient knowledge gap in aquatic ecology and expand our understanding of the underlying physiological mechanisms controlling community and ecosystem level responses.

Emily Varga

Ph.D. Candidate

University of Windsor

Windsor, Ontario

Canada

Research Title

Reciprocal learning to understand the environmental drivers of cyanoHABs in large lakes. 

Freshwater resources around the world have been threatened by cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms for decades. Surveys of these blooms in western Lake Erie have shown that they are dominated by hepatotoxin-producing Microcystis and by various filamentous forms in agriculturally influenced embayments and tributaries to these lakes. It has been shown that rivers contribute to the formation of cyanoHABs in lakes mainly by serving as conduits delivering nutrients to promote the blooms. Only recently has a systems biology approach been adopted for in-depth study of these blooms, combining environmental chemistry, ecology and molecular biology. The goals of this study are to gain an understanding of the factors that contribute to the formation of distinct cyanoHABs in rivers compared to the lakes into which they flow. Our surveys will focus on the Thames River and the receiving waters of Lake St. Clair and will address which environmental factors promote proliferation of algal blooms. We will also investigate the dominant algal taxa found in these systems and the prevalence of toxin production. Methods which we will employ to achieve these goals include analysis of water chemistry, microscopy to identify cyanobacterial taxa, transcriptome analysis to assess cyanobacterial response to environmental influence, quantitative PCR (qPCR) and RT-qPCR to determine prevalence of toxin-producing taxa and in-situ mesocosms in which we will attempt to assess the influence of physico-chemical factors (e.g. light and nutrients) on promoting the growth of cyanobacteria. Our project will likewise include use of remote data collection using water quality sondes to monitor in real-time changes in physico-chemical parameters and algal community dynamics. It has been shown that the cyanobacterial community will shift with nutrient limitation and as such, we hypothesize that the dominant taxa within the mesocosms will also vary with respect to changes in the nitrogen to phosphorus ratio, light penetration and temperature as the communities respond to differences in nutrient limitation. We also hypothesize that there will be variation in taxa with respect to light penetration and temperature. This study will provide us with the tools to not only predict the composition and quantity of future blooms in terms of taxonomy and potential toxin-production but also to plan appropriate means to mitigate future bloom events. This would be beneficial at many levels of public health concerns.

Ryan Wagner

Masters Candidate

Bowling Green State University

Bowling Green, Ohio

USA

Research Title

Abiotic Factors limiting Chytridiomycota infecting Planktothrix in Sandusky Bay lake Erie

Sandusky Bay, Lake Erie has frequent and often toxic cyanobacterial blooms that are dominated by filamentous Planktothrix species. Chytridiomycota known as chytrids are fungal parasites that are capable of infecting cyanobacteria. In Sandusky Bay the chytrid Rhizophydium sp. has been known to infect Planktothrix. Chytrids are an overlooked aspect of cyanobacterial blooms and the effect they have on naturally controlling cyanobacteria blooms. Biotic and abiotic factors limiting these epidemics are important for understanding the role in controlling cyanobacterial blooms. Chytrids serve as a parasite and as a food source for other organisms. Zoospores, a flagellated infectious life stage, can break apart long less edible filamentous cyanobacteria causing a trophic upgrading for zooplankton. Additionally, the sporangia stage which is attached to a cyanobacteria removes nutrients from the inside of the cyanobacteria. This stage then produced more zoospores which are released along with the nutrients to make them. Due to the small nature of zoospores it is likely that abiotic factors like depth and the amount of water movement play a large role in chytrids ability to find and infect their obligate hosts. I propose that water circulation with significantly lessen the severity of infections and that infections will vary with depth.

Collen Yancey

Ph.D. Candidate

University of Michigan

Ann Arbor, Michigan

USA

Research Title

Deciphering the Biosynthetic Capacity of Lake Victoria Microcystis: A Comparative Omics Analysis

My research targets questions regarding secondary metabolite biosynthesis capacity of Microcystis strains found in Lake Victoria. I propose to generate metagenome assembled genomes of Microcystis found in the Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) communities of Lake Victoria. Using de novo genome assembly methods, I will aim to create high quality, nearly complete Microcystis genomes that could subsequently be used for biosynthetic gene cluster mining to detect the secondary metabolite potential of these strains. These genomes could also be used for future genomic analyses. For example, results from my research may also be used to assess differences in microcystin and non-microcystin genotypes as well as ecotype variation. To complete this work, filters of HAB biomass would be collected, preserved, and subjected to DNA extraction and shotgun sequencing. In addition to metagenomic analysis, metatranscriptomic analyses would also be completed to understand the expression of secondary metabolite genes. This work will be highly complementary to secondary metabolite quantification of known toxins in the lab. Finally, these genomes and expression data will be compared to genomes and data generated from Western Lake Erie Harmful Algal Bloom Cruises to elucidate the differences and similarities in strain and biosynthetic capabilities. Further, our genomes will also be compared to other publicly available Microcystis genomes in order to contextualize how unique or similar Lake Victoria Microcystis strains are to Microcystis isolated all around the world. In addition to understanding secondary metabolite potential and expression of these strains, shotgun reads may also be used to dissect the genomic underpinnings of microcystin production and may reveal which congeners are likely to be produced due to microcystin gene sequence variation. To my knowledge, there are currently no Microcystis genomes generated from Lake Victoria HABs and these genomes could be used for several subsequent genomic studies. Ultimately, these Microcystis genomes will be published on NCBI or IMG in order to be easily accessible for future studies.

Brittany Zepernick

Ph.D. Candidate

University of Tennessee Knoxville

Knoxville, Tennessee

USA

Research Title

Investigating drivers of Lake Erie algal blooms

In Lake Erie, a seasonal pattern of algal succession occurs: diatom blooms dominate winter-spring, and Microcystis blooms dominate summer-fall. My research aims to assess the drivers of these blooms and their succession in Lake Erie. Our first driver of focus was pH, as studies indicate Microcystis blooms inc. water column pH to ≥ 9.2. We used culture assays to assess Microcystis’s response to N sources on a pH gradient, demonstrating M. aeruginosa utilizes urea during pH-induced nutrient limitation “Urea is both a carbon and nitrogen source for Microcystis aeruginosa: Tracking 13C Incorporation at bloom pH conditions” (Krausfeldt, Zepernick, et al., 2019). This work suggests high pH is a positive feedback loop for Microcystis blooms. Yet, there is little work on the effects of high pH on Microcystis’s competitors (diatoms). We predicted due to the pH-dependency of biosilicification, diatoms can’t deposit silica (Si) cell walls at pH ≥ 9.2. Serendipitously, troubleshooting this project led to a paper “Flaming as part of aseptic technique increases CO2 and decreases pH in freshwater culture media” (Zepernick et al., 2020).  After which, I assessed the effects of pH on the relevant diatom Fragilaria crotonensis in vitro, and a Lake Erie diatom community in situ. These studies indicated high pH negatively affects growth and Si deposition, serving as a competitive disadvantage “Elevated pH conditions associated with Microcystis spp. blooms decrease viability of the cultured diatom Fragilaria crotonensis and natural diatoms in Lake Erie” (Zepernick et al., 2021 accepted). Cumulatively, these results suggest pH plays a role in taxa succession, creating a potential to prolong summer Microcystis blooms and constrain diatom fall resurgence. In addition to my work on urea and pH, I took part in a field study at OSU’s Stone Lab (July 2019), assessing short-term responses of Microcystis to episodic nutrient pulses (Pound, Zepernick et al., 2021in prep). During this, I also led my first field study assessing the effects of pH on natural diatoms (to be published in Zepernick et al., 2021). While my work thus far focused on drivers of summer-fall HAB succession, there is a lack of research on problematic, albeit non-toxic, diatom blooms in Lake Erie. I received an Illumina Grant (2020) to sequence the genome of the diatom F. crotonensis, which will facilitate future bioinformatic studies of diatoms. Currently, I am processing Lake Erie winter diatom metatranscriptomes.