Principal Investigator: 
Jeanette Schnars (
Regional Science Consortium

Algal blooms are a naturally occurring event in response to dynamic shifts in an aquatic environment; however unnatural elevated nutrient inputs into a watershed can result in excessive and more frequent algal blooms. Harmful algal blooms (HABs) create a human health concern due to the release of toxins that can affect those that recreate or come in contact with those waters. The western basin of Lake Erie has received extensive HABs of Microcystis aeruginosa, which led to the shut-down of the drinking water supply in Toledo, Ohio on August 2, 2014. The blue - green alga, Microcystis, produces the neurotoxin Microcystin. Microcystins are usually released upon cell death or lysis, however it is suspected that live cells may also release this toxin, which may persist in the environment up to several weeks. Microcystin is a hepatotoxin (targeting the liver), and may cause irritation to the skin, eyes, and throat, and may be fatal to pets that come in contact with the toxin.

Although Microcystin quantification provides critical information to make informed management decisions regarding toxicity levels and the use of recreational waters, this does not provide data on the concentration of Microcystis (through cell counts). During a bloom event there is an obvious green “scum” on the water surface, however water samples may result in low toxin levels at isolated moments in time. As these cells begin to die off it may be assumed the observed scum on the water decreases and toxin levels would increase and be maintained for a period of time. By analyzing water samples through the use of Flow Cytometry, cell counts of Microcystis can be quantified.  The purpose of this project is toquantify Microcystis through cell counts using Flow Cytometry in order to:
  • investigate the relationship between Microcystis cell counts and the presence of the toxin Microcystin;
  • investigate water quality parameters (water temperature, pH, turbidity, conductivity, dissolved oxygen) that may be related to the release of the Microcystin toxin;
  • create a database of cell counts, toxin concentrations, and environmental parameters to support the development of a predictive model for HABs; and
  • provide data and collaborate with those monitoring nutrient levels in Presque Isle Bay and in the Pennsylvania waters of Lake Erie to determine relationship of Microcystis with phosphorous and nitrogen concentrations throughout the season.


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Current or Past research?: 
Current Research

Main Office: Tom Ridge Environmental Center 301 Peninsula Dr., Suite 3 Erie, PA 16505 814-217-9011