Genetic Tools to Assess Cyanobacteria

There is a suite of projects underway, which are developing genetic tools to assess cyanobacteria numbers, species, toxin production and evolution. The aims of these projects are:

1. Use a polyphasic approach to identify and describe the major problematic planktonic cyanobacteria species of New Zealand lakes.

2. Identify and confirm planktonic cyanobacteria species responsible for cyanotoxin production in New Zealand waterbodies using molecular and chemical methods.

Figure below: PCR screening cyanobacterial cultures for the presence of genes associated with microcystin production

3. Develop and optimise rapid and sensitive molecular tools to detect and quantify toxic and non-toxic cyanobacteria present at low levels in waterbodies. Once developed and optimized these methods will complement existing methods and offer additional benefits including: the ability to detect cyanobacteria at low levels, reduced reliance on taxonomic expertise, the ability to distinguish between toxic and non-toxic strains, lower cost of assays and rapid generation of results. These methods will allow high resolution sampling, increasing our ability to understand and predict cyanobacterial blooms and cyanotoxin production.

Figure below: quantitative PCR used to establish the number of cyanobacteria cells in a sample.

4. Use a suite of molecular tools to monitor changes in composition and dynamics of cyanobacteria species and assess changes in toxic and non-toxic genotypes in selected lakes. Changes in species and genotypes will be studied in relation to selected environmental parameters and actual cyanotoxin levels.

5. Investigate the influence of selected environmental parameters on transcription levels of genes that encode enzymes required for the synthesis of selected cyanotoxins. Changes in transcript levels will also be correlated to actual toxin production levels. Increasing our understanding of the mechanisms regulating cyanotoxin production and will assist in predicting, preparing for and preventing toxic events.