Student Research: Jesse Billingham

MS, , 2012
Faculty Advisor: John Meschke

Public Health Risk Associated with Recreational Exposure to the Algal Toxin Microcystin in Western Washington Lakes


Freshwater cyanobacteria are ubiquitous gram-negative prokaryotes inhabiting aquatic systems around the world (Codd, Morrison, and Metcalf 2005). Cyanobacteria are a diverse group, with some classification systems estimating 2,000 different species. Also known as blue-green algae, cyanobacteria lack a membrane bound nucleus and reproduce asexually. Like true algae, the majority of species are autotrophic, contain chlorophyll-a and photosynthesize (Zurawell et al. 2005). Cyanobacteria often dominate the phytoplankton community in freshwater environments during warm months due to their ability to tolerate wide ranges in salinity and turbidity (Funari and Testai 2008). This second dominance has led to an increase in freshwater bodies due to suspended cells and surface scums known as cyanobacterial blooms. Species comprising cyanobacterial blooms may produce a variety of bioactive compounds, including toxins that may present a health risk to humans through exposure by way of contaminated drinking water or contact during recreational activities. A toxin producing bloom is known as a harmful algal bloom (HAB). Blooms of cyanobacteria occur worldwide causing a range of ecological, economic, and quality of life issues (Sinclair et al. 2008). The presence of cyanobacterial blooms can affect the value of recreational waters and may reduce recreational uses of water bodies (Oliver and Ganf 2000).