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The role of heterotrophic bacteria in protecting cyanobacteria from hydrogen peroxide in coastal systems.


Toxic cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (CHABs) are now a worldwide problem that poses dangers for humans and aquatic organisms including life-threatening sickness, beach closures, health alerts, and drinking water treatment plant closures. This project focuses on the basic science needed to understand interactions between the microorganisms present in CHABs and the chemistry of the lakes they inhabit. In particular, it will study the sources, fate, and effects of hydrogen peroxide, which is a potentially important control on the toxicity and species present within these blooms. This research will be conducted in Lake Erie, a source of drinking water for 11 million people that is threatened by CHABs annually. Results will be directly integrated into two water quality models that are widely used by water managers and other stakeholders. This project will support the training of two PhD students, including a first-generation college attendee, and undergraduate students from backgrounds that are underrepresented in the earth sciences. Research will also be integrated into outreach aimed at increasing diversity in the earth sciences by involving women and underrepresented minorities in K-12 as well as college and adult educational settings.<br/><br/>The overall goal of this project is to determine the influence of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) on cyanobacterial community composition and function in nearshore ecosystems. Preliminary results from Lake Erie show that dominant primary producers rely on heterotrophic bacteria to draw down H2O2 from transiently high environmental levels that are likely inhibitory to members of the cyanobacterial community. This suggests that H2O2 plays important and still poorly understood roles in aquatic microbial ecology. A combination of field sampling, experiments, and state-of-the art "-omics" will be used to test the overall hypothesis that H2O2 decomposition by heterotrophic "helpers" is an important determinant of microbial interactions and community structure and function. Lake Erie will be studied because (i) it is a model system for shallow coastal areas receiving high terrestrial nutrient runoff, (ii) it offers strong inshore-offshore gradients of light and nutrients for comparative studies, and (iii) existing sampling infrastructure, archived samples, and preliminary data can be leveraged. Field and laboratory experiments and measurements will be integrated to answer the following questions: Q1: What drives the temporal dynamics of H2O2 concentrations? Q2: Which enzymes and organisms are responsible for protecting the community via biological H2O2 decay? Q3: How does protection from H2O2 by helpers influence the composition and function of the community? The study will perform controlled lab experiments on cultures and on natural waters during different points of the bloom. Measures of H2O2 concentrations and rates of production and decay, along with supporting chemical and biological measurements, will be used to assess the major sources and sinks of H2O2. Molecular tools will be used to determine the pathways underpinning H2O2 decay and the effect of H2O2 on cyanobacterial community composition function. In parallel, impacts of varying H2O2 concentrations on growth rates of major cyanobacteria will be assessed experimentally. These experimental results will be placed into context through comparisons with the structure and function of microbial communities from field samples across spatial, temporal, and chemical gradients in this coastal ecosystem. The approach of integrating studies of H2O2 with "-omics" in natural systems is novel, and will advance our fundamental knowledge and understanding of the relationship between microbial community composition and function.

Kling, George; Cory, Rose; Dick, Gregory
University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
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