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Posted by Stephanie A. Smith, Ph.D.on Thu, Aug 13, 2015

Sylvan120822_eastside1It happened again.  We had a batch of blue-green algae collected in a private lake in Illinois, and were figuring out which congeners were in it.  It was loaded with Microcystin-RR, and only traces of Microcystin-LR.  GRRrrrrr…..

My team at Beagle Bioproducts has been collecting toxic blue-green algae from all over the Midwestern U.S. and beyond for about three years now, because we purify toxins from that material so that scientists can use the toxins in research.  In 2012 when we started, we expected an abundance of Microcystin-LR, because most scientific articles on the topic state that Microcystin-LR is the most “cosmopolitan” of all the congeners.  What we have found instead is that Microcystin-LR seems to be the least commonly encountered in our batches, relative to Microcystin-RR and Microcystin-LA, and various “rare” congeners, which as a group seem to be anything but rare.  Again, GRRrrrrr….

Why does this make me growl? Well, as a businesswoman, it makes life tough: the demand for Microcystin-LR for scientific research is far higher than the demand for Microcystin-RR, so I have a hard time keeping up to supply Microcystin-LR.  But more importantly than my little world, the vast majority of toxicology studies, testing of water treatment technologies, toxin testing methods, etc., focus almost exclusively on Microcystin-LR.  One reason for this is because to compare data across studies, using the same toxin in the scientific community is a useful thing.  Further, it is widely believed that Microcystin-LR is the most toxic of the congeners, and therefore, it is more “important” to study it. 

But is that the way it should be, if in fact Microcystin-LR is not the most commonly encountered toxin in some parts of the world?  Since we have entered an era in the U.S. where states are testing drinking water, and in fact shutting water supplies down for detection of any type of Microcystins at a threshold level (e.g. Toledo, OH in August 2014), then the questions of which Microcystins are most likely to be encountered, and which of those are most toxic, are long overdue to be resolved. 

If the U.S. Congress ever does make available a suitable level of funding for research on this topic, via HABHRCA or any number of clean water programs, well, that’d be GRRrrrrrrrrrEAT!

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