RESEARCH TOPICSHarmful Algal Blooms (HABs)
Cyanobacteria harmful algal blooms produce many toxic secondary metabolites called cyanotoxins. The most studied group of cyanotoxins are microcystins (MC), with over 300 congeners reported. MC-LR is the most studied congener because of its abundance and toxicity. Recent toxicology studies suggest that more hydrophobic MC congeners such as MC-LA, MC-LF, and MC-LW may be less abundant but up to seven times more toxic than MC-LR, whereas, MC-RR’s toxicity is only one-fifth that of MC-LR. Hence, understanding the environmental stressors that change the MC congener profile is critical to assessing the negative impact on environmental and human health. A two-year field and experimental study investigated seasonal and spatial changes of MC congener profiles in the western basin of Lake Erie. Both studies showed that nitrogen enrichment favored the production of nitrogen-rich MC-RR (C49H75N13O12). The field study showed that nitrogen depletion favored the low-nitrogen MC-LA (C46H67N7O12). MC-LR (a medium N level, C49H75N10O12) accounted for ∼30% to 50% of the total MC concentration and was stable across nitrogen concentrations. Using the relative toxicity and concentrations of each MC congener, both LC-MS/MS and ELISA overestimated the toxicity early bloom (July) and underestimated it late bloom (September). On 24 July 2019, highly toxic MC-LW and MC-LF were detected at nearshore stations with relative toxicity exceeding drinking water standards. This study demonstrated that the less toxic, high nitrogen MC-RR dominated under nitrogen-replete conditions in the early season, whereas the more toxic, less nitrogen MC-LA dominated under nitrogen-limited conditions later in the season.