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Week of February 21, 2011

Research

UM-D researcher helps link algae to harmful compound

UM-Dearborn researcher Michael Twiner, assistant professor of biology, and a team of environmental researchers have made an innovative discovery regarding blue-green algae. The team found that the algae might produce an estrogen-like compound in the environment, which disrupts reproductive hormones and could be harmful to fish, other aquatic life, and human health.

Using funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ecology of Harmful Algal Blooms Research Program, researchers compared groups of larval zebrafish exposed to Microcystis cells with those exposed to just the well-studied toxin they produce and found that only the fish in contact with the blue-green algal cells tested positive for a well-studied estrogenic biomarker. This led them to conclude the algal blooms were producing a previously unrecognized substance, which is an estrogen-like compound that acts as an endocrine disruptor.

“We know that industrial activities have released estrogenic-type compounds into the environmental in the past, but now there appears to be a new biological source that has never been observed before. It seems for the first time we have seen an indication that algae may be producing environmental estrogens, or as we have termed them, ‘phycoestrogens’ meaning algal-derived estrogens,” Twiner says.

The research colleagues noted that harmful blooms of toxin-producing algae occur in waters throughout the world and are a growing health and environmental concern with possible human health effects include skin rashes, fever and liver damage.

“Dense accumulations or blooms of Microcystis are nearly annual events in many of Michigan’s lakes and water reservoirs, including Lake Erie. Our laboratory findings that suggest the presence of an estrogenic compound during these bloom events certainly warrant subsequent studies and possibly more vigilant monitoring procedures,” Twiner says.

The research is published in the American Chemical Society’s journal, Environmental Science & Technology.

 

STAFF SPOTLIGHT

Amanda Krugliak, arts curator, Institute for the Humanities, on returning to Ann Arbor: “I love where I’ve landed. Perhaps I don’t know what’s coming next, and I never expected to find myself back here, but I have a sense of what matters.”

EVENTS

The School of Art & Design Emeritus Faculty Exhibition is presented from noon-7 p.m. through Feb. 25 at Work • Ann Arbor, 306 S. State St.

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