News Feature | November 20, 2013

Scientists Gain Insight Into Blue-Green Algae Toxin

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

blue-greenalgaereg

Scientists are getting a better understanding of how toxic blue-green algae manages to release its harmful toxins, which are known for causing liver damage in people and killing animals. 

Researcher Sally Everson of the Tweed Shire Council recently made a new discovery about the location of these toxins.

"The toxin that is produced by this algae is separating, liaising out of the algal cells and dropping down into the cleaner water and the water down at the bottom of the water body so you might remove the algal cells or take the water where there are no algal cells but in fact you could possibly be getting more toxins," she said in an ABC News article.

The findings are significant because the presence of the toxins is hard to identify.

"With this particular species there's no indication that it is in the water body, it doesn't present with scum or smells or odors you just would have no idea that it's there so what it's indicating is that we need to have a much more pro-active system of testing and checking that this species hasn't yet turned up in our drinking water supplies," Everson said in the article. 

Researchers are also finding that blue-green algae is becoming more dangerous. 

Nutrient enrichment and climate change are causing "an apparent increase in the toxicity of some algal blooms in freshwater lakes and estuaries around the world, which threatens aquatic organisms, ecosystem health and human drinking water safety," scientists at Oregon State University found in new research, according to a report from the school. 

As this nutrient enrichment, or 'eutrophication' increases, so will the proportion of toxins released by algal blooms, scientists said in the Oregon State announcement.

Blue-green algae "are basically the cockroaches of the aquatic world,” said Timothy Otten, a postdoctoral scholar at Oregon State, whose work has been supported by the National Science Foundation. “They're the uninvited guest that just won't leave.”

Blue-green algae growths, a major problem in the U.S., are also known as cyanobacteria. The problem is an expensive one for utilities, Water Online previously reported

Image credit: "Blue Green Algae 01," © 2007 Mark Sadowski, used under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

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