TOP

Protect Public Health | Ohio Sea Grant

[ ☰ ] Ohio State University

The Ohio State University

Ohio Sea Grant

/research/collaborations/habs/protect

Protect Public Health

Projects in this focus area examine the effects of the algal toxin microcystin on people and animals and study whether microcystin is found in produce irrigated with algal-contaminated water

While safe drinking water is a major focus for public health officials and researchers, scientists are also working on other health impacts of harmful algal blooms and the associated toxins. The algal toxin microcystin affects the liver, nervous system and skin, and potentially causes cancer in humans. Projects in this focus area examine those effects, develop techniques to detect the toxin in biological samples, and study whether microcystin is found in fish or produce grown in algae-contaminated water.

Projects

Method Development for Detecting Toxins in Biological Samples

Principal Investigator

Kenneth Hensley, University of Toledo


Project Summary

Researchers at the University of Toledo are developing a method to detect microcystin compounds in human tissue.

Since harmful algal blooms are a relatively recent issue, scientists are still developing the tools needed to tell whether algal toxins or their byproducts remain in the tissue of plants, animals or humans exposed to them. Accurately measuring these toxins in urine, blood and human tissues is a necessary first step in understanding the ways in which these substances might be hazardous to health.

A research team at the University of Toledo is contributing to this effort. Led by Kenneth Hensley, an associate professor of pathology, they are refining a laboratory method to measure how the family of algal toxins of greatest concern — the microcystins — can be found in the human body.

The team is using a technique called liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry that is able to separate and quantify several different forms of microcystin as well as the related compounds that result when the body breaks them down.

The Bottom Line

By measuring how much microcystin remains inside the body after exposure, this technique will help public health officials understand the potential health effects — neutral, negative or positive — of coming into contact with algal toxins.

    |     Download Synopsis

Fish Flesh and Fresh Produce as Sources of Microcystin Exposure to Humans

Principal Investigator

Stuart Ludsin, The Ohio State University


Project Summary

Many bloom-forming algae contain toxins known to be harmful to humans if ingested. These toxins may accumulate in fish residing in a bloom or in produce irrigated with contaminated water. But until now, regulators have no solid scientific data to be able to guide citizens about eating fish or produce affected by algal blooms.

A multi-college research team led by Stuart Ludsin, an aquatic ecologist at The Ohio State University, is trying to figure out how much of the algal toxin microcystin is detectable in the flesh of fish such as walleye and yellow perch from Lake Erie that were exposed to harmful algal blooms. They are also looking at whether the same toxin can be found in fresh produce that was irrigated with bloom-infected water.

The Bottom Line

A better understanding of how algal blooms affect fresh food that will help regulatory agencies develop guidelines for eating fish or produce irrigated with lake water during an algal bloom.

    |     Download Synopsis

Evaluation of Cyanobacteria and Their Toxins in a Two-Staged Model of Hepatocarcinogenesis

Principal Investigator

Christopher Weghorst, The Ohio State University


Project Summary

Illnesses caused by exposure to cyanobacterial toxins — which come from hazardous algal blooms — are well known. That’s especially true for microcystin, the bacterial toxin that led to a drinking water ban in Toledo in 2014. For those who drink the water, symptoms range from skin irritation to stomach cramps, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, fever, sore throat, headache, muscle and joint pain, blisters of the mouth and liver damage. Those who swim in the water may suffer from asthma, eye irritation, rashes and blisters around the mouth and nose.

What researchers don’t know for sure is how carcinogenic the toxins might be.

Enter Christopher Weghorst, environmental health scientist and associate dean for research in the College of Public Health at Ohio State. His research will examine whether chronic exposure to drinking water containing microcystins as well as other components in cyanobacteria increases liver cancer development in mice.

The Bottom Line

Better knowledge of how microcystin, the toxin produced by many harmful algal blooms, affects the liveer and potential cancer development.

    |     Download Synopsis

Characterization of Recreational Exposures to Cyanotoxins in Western Lake Erie Basin

Principal Investigator

April Ames & Michael Valigosky, University of Toledo


Project Summary

The current phase of this project is focused on recreational and occupational water use behaviors in the western Lake Erie basin. This prepares the research team for the next phase, where they will examine the health impact from recreational and occupational exposure to cyanotoxins, in combination with measuring aerosolized microcystin. The end goal is to connect those exposures to any self-reported health impacts. Skin rashes, liver problems and respiratory issues are common examples of health effects caused by cyanotoxins.

Currently the researchers are collecting survey responses from recreational users who may be exposed to cyanotoxins through swimming or boating – the majority of responses have been collected and are being analyzed. The group is solidifying their sampling methods for airborne exposure to aerosolized microcystin. They’re also starting to get back in touch with groups that represent those who work on or close to the lake – charter boat captains, fishing boat crew, or beach vendors, for example – after a busy summer season to collect data on those occupational exposures.

The Bottom Line

A better understanding of microcystin exposure due to recreational and work use of Lake Erie waters.

       

A Comprehensive Approach for Evaluation of Acute Toxic Responses After Microcystin Ingestion

Principal Investigator

Jiyoung Lee & Christopher Weghorst, The Ohio State University


Project Summary

Ingesting microcystin toxin can have acute negative effects on the liver and other organs. This study will evaluate those effects in detail using laboratory mice, to hopefully better detect and treat those effects in the future.

After a literature review that suggested a very wide range of toxin dosages for the experiments, the researchers have completed a preliminary study to decide on three dosages: 5000 micrograms of microcystin per kilogram of body weight per day, as well as 3000 micrograms and a non-toxin control group. This main study is currently underway, using both male and female mice to detect any sex-based differences.

The Bottom Line

Development of better detection and treatment options for liver disease caused by microcystin exposure.

       

Discovery of Enzymes in Pathways Responsible for Microcystin Degradation

Principal Investigator

Jason Huntley, University of Toledo


Project Summary

Some bacteria have the ability to degrade the microcystin toxin MC-LR into non-toxic component parts, including bacteria naturally found in Lake Erie. A previous HABRI project isolated and identified groups of these bacteria, which are now being examined at the genetic level to potentially produce enzymes that can be used in water treatment plants.

Dr. Huntley and his research group had hoped to find already known MC-LR degradation genes, based on studies from Australia, Japan and China. However, those genes were nowhere to be found in Lake Erie bacteria, so new genetic pathways have to be identified.

Current work focuses on using next generation genomic sequencing technology to examine the genetic information from these bacteria in the presence and absence of MC-LR. The toxin triggers an increase in the production of enzymes that attack it, so a gene that is observed in a higher number of copies when MC-LR is present is a likely candidate for further use. Dr. Huntley and his group have partnered with investigators at a number of Ohio universities to achieve these results, including the University of Toledo, Bowling Green State University, The Ohio State University and Kent State University.

The Bottom Line

Alternative treatment options for microcystin contamination in drinking water.