A systems approach for understanding, predicting, and managing harmful algal blooms in Midwestern lakes

EPA Grant Number: RD839270
Title: A systems approach for understanding, predicting, and managing harmful algal blooms in Midwestern lakes
Investigators: Howe, Adina , Choi, Jinlyung , Ikuma, Kaoru , Swanner, Elizabeth
Institution: Iowa State University
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: January 1, 2018 through December 31, 2020
Project Amount: $760,000
RFA: Freshwater Harmful Algal Blooms (2017) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Water , Water and Watersheds , Water Quality


The objective of the study is to use a systems approach to identify genetic and environmental factors controlling the occurrence and fate of harmful algal blooms (HABs) in Iowa’s recreational lakes. We hypothesize that HAB ecology and cyanotoxin production are the predictable result of environmental factors (e.g., high nutrient conditions); that the underlying genetic markers for cyanotoxin production are taxonomically controlled; and that incipient cyanotoxin-degrading microbes are present during HABs. The proposed research aims to test these hypotheses in conjunction with the development of novel predictive tools to target future cyanotoxin monitoring and mitigation to the highest-risk recreational waters. The following objectives will be accomplished: conduct an integrated meta-analysis of physicochemical parameters and microbiome analyses of Iowa’s HAB-impacted recreational waters to develop a predictive model of HAB occurrence; develop scalable tools that can be used to rapidly monitor HABs and identify when additional cyanotoxin monitoring is necessary; identify emerging cyanotoxins within Iowa's lakes and determine the freshwater HAB species linked to these toxins and the genetic systems that control toxin production; and identify and evaluate novel toxin-degraders for the mitigation of HAB cyanotoxins.


Our meta-analysis will generate a microbial community dataset from samples of Iowa’s HAB-impacted recreational waters that will be integrated and analyzed with corresponding physicochemical and toxin data collected by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to develop a predictive model of HAB occurrence. This dataset will further be leveraged to develop PCR-based chips and a multi-wavelength fluorometer approach for rapid screening of waters impacted by HABs. Isolation and identification of novel toxin-producing and -degrading microbes will provide additional genetic targets for rapid chip-based screening of key microbial players in HAB toxicity.

Expected Results:

The output of this work will promote the implementation of early warning and closures of HAB-associated recreational waters that threaten public health. Further, we will identify and broaden our understanding of emerging toxic strains and characterize their contribution to HABs in Iowa’s lake waters. We will also assess the native ability of Iowa’s lakes to mitigate toxins via the presence of natural, toxindegrading microbes, which can be developed for future mitigation strategies.

Supplemental Keywords:

ecosystem, indicators, toxics, environmental chemistry, limnology, Midwest