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eNews May 2021

NMSU Student studies Cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms in New Mexico

NMSU Student studies Cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms in New Mexico

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

Nutrient loads from agricultural fields, wastewater runoff from industry, and high temperatures due to climate change can cause specific environmental conditions that cause intense growth of microorganisms called cyanobacteria. These events are called Cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms (cHABs) and they are an ecological problem in freshwater lakes and rivers. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), cHABs and their toxins can harm people and animals. In New Mexico, cHABs caused several recreational lakes to shut down in the summer of 2019. In response to the detection of these large blooms in 2019, additional research concerning cHABs in New Mexico needs to be conducted to mitigate against future blooms. As a state with an already limited supply of freshwater, it is important to investigate threat of cHABs to New Mexico’s aquatic ecosystems, water supplies, and the agricultural economy.

NM WRRI has awarded a Student Water Research Grant to New Mexico State University (NMSU) PhD student Sergei Shalygin to help fund a project which will collect and monitor water samples in the lakes, rivers, and reservoirs of New Mexico. The project entitled, Assessment of the cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms (cHABs) and toxins in the blooming water bodies of New Mexico, aims to monitor endogenous cyanobacterial toxic species in the Rio Grande and detect cyanobacterial toxins with mass spectrometry from both water samples and biomass.

Under the guidance of his faculty advisor, Dr. F. Omar Holguin, Shalygin collected samples from the Rio Grande and other lakes and reservoirs for laboratory analysis. First, the macroscopic biomass of the cHABs were collected and analyzed phenotypically under a microscope. At the same time, genomic DNA was extracted and sent for Next-generation sequencing of the toxin-producing genes. Biomass and water quality parameters (pH, temp, alkalinity, N, P) were also quantified. Some blooms are not visible, so Shalygin’s research team targeted biomarkers from the water samples for mass spectrometry. Both toxins and bioactive compounds from the blooms and the water column were concentrated, extracted, and analyzed utilizing high accuracy mass spectrometry.

According to Shalygin, because New Mexico does not have any federal or state freshwater monitoring programs for cHABs, this research may serve as a template for future monitoring of the lakes, rivers, and reservoirs of New Mexico. As Shalygin explains, “The data gathered in this project will help develop collaborations for the establishment of a statewide monitoring program. With the data obtained during the proposed research period, an initial comparison of the relative concentration of cyanobacterial toxins from water bodies of New Mexico with EPA standards can be conducted and will be useful in decision-making to minimize the negative effect of cyanobacterial toxins.” Shalygin presented part of this project at the 65th Annual New Mexico Water Conference.

Shalygin, originally from Russia, has a master’s degree in Biology and a PhD in Botany. Shalygin is on track to graduate with a PhD in Plant and Environmental Sciences from NMSU in 2023, and after graduation, plans to continue doing good science.