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NOAA awards grant to develop a biofilter to remove algal toxins from the Great Lakes

This article was first published by NOAA.

NOAA has awarded a team of scientists $182,982 for the first year of an anticipated four-year $703,777 project for research that could lead to an instrument, called a biofilter, that could break down harmful algal toxins in the Great Lakes into harmless byproducts.

This project will build on previous research that examined bacteria capable of degrading microcystin, a widespread toxin produced by some species of cyanobacteria, commonly known as blue-green algae. Toxins produced by blue-green algae are a growing national threat and known to cause serious illnesses in humans, pets, and wildlife and pose a significant risk to some water supplies. The planned biofilter could be an effective way to prevent the passage of algal toxins into water distribution systems.

The research team is led by Steven Wilhelm, Ph.D., University of Tennessee, Knoxville in collaboration with Gregory Boyer, Ph.D. State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

“For many years researchers have focused on the ecology of toxic cyanobacterial blooms, and addressed the question of why these blooms occur,” said Wilhelm. “While understanding the causes of bloom events remains an important and ongoing effort, we now have the opportunity to engineer a potential solution for persistent toxin concentrations we find in many freshwater environments.”

“Health concerns caused by cyanobacteria blooms are a significant economic threat for us here, with a 20 to 25 percent decline in tourism related revenue in this area in 2010 alone due to this issue,” said Ed Leroux, president of Save our Sodus, a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to protecting water quality in Sodus Bay, a part of Lake Ontario in New York state.

The research is funded through a national competition of the Prevention, Control, and Mitigation of Harmful Algal Blooms (PCM HAB) run by NOAA’s National Ocean Service/National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. NOAA’s harmful algal bloom and hypoxia programs are authorized by the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 1998.

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