Researchers studying how blue-green algae toxins travel

Published: January 18, 2022 3:17 PM EST
Updated: January 18, 2022 4:37 PM EST

We know that toxins from blue-green algae can make people sick. And, the smell and sight of blue-green algae is something none of us want to deal with again.

But now, researchers are trying to figure out how these toxins travel through the air and get into our bodies. WINK News gives you a sneak peek of the technology making this study possible.

A blue-green algae culture from Las Vegas, Nevada, is just one of the many samples being studied. A duo from The Water School at Florida Gulf Coast University uses these samples to see how toxins travel through the air.

Barry Rosen is a professor at The Water School at FGCU. “So that’s an aerosolization chamber, we built it, we designed it and built it, and the idea is that we want to create wind speeds that might occur Mother Nature,” said Rosen.

The wind comes from one side and on the far end is a canister that acts as an artificial lung. Trinity Allan is a graduate student in The Water School at FGCU. “So the artificial lung contains a series of filters going from the trachea down to the alveoli, and it’ll show us how much of each toxin or the whole cells are going through each layer of our lungs,” Allan said.

So far, they’ve learned that not only can toxins move through the air, but so can microorganisms.

“That’s kind of new, knowing that the aerosols, the wind is whipping up and allowing whole organisms to be lifted into the air and we don’t, they’re not going to survive inside a human,” Rosen said. “But the fact that they’re coming in, so it’s not just the toxins that are in the water, that are dangerous but the toxins because most of the toxins are inside the cells.”

And the work you see firsthand has been years in the making through The Water School. “The understanding of aerosols started with people putting those chambers like we’re using that, that collect the aerosols, or we’re leaving them out for two weeks near a water body,” said Rosen.

This gives researchers the foundation for understanding how blue-green algae toxins move and the tools to better protect us from them.

This project, funded by the Florida Department of Health, started almost a year ago. Researchers expect to complete the study this summer. In the future, Rosen wants to look into what happens to blue-green algae toxins as they move down the Caloosahatchee River to saltier environments.