qPCR Testing: A Valuable Tool for Routine Monitoring, Predicting Toxic Events, and Differentiating Algal Blooms

As the temperatures continue to rise in the summer months, so does the probability of harmful algal blooms (HABs). Harmful algal blooms are not your typical algal blooms or surface scum. HABs are actually a form of cyanobacteria that produce toxins that can cause illness, irritation, and even death in pets, livestock, and humans. Typical green algae come in many forms and may look like underwater moss, stringy mats, or floating scum. Cyanobacteria however, looks like slicks of opaque, bright-green paint, but closer inspection often reveals the grainy, sawdust-like appearance of individual colonies.

To protect the public, recreational water program managers and public health officials are responsible for assessing the potential for harmful algal blooms to occur. qPCR, or quantitative polymerase chain reaction, is a type of genomic testing that looks for the specific genes responsible for producing toxins. This testing provides a more accurate risk assessment when compared with cell counts. In addition, qPCR analysis is unique in that is has demonstrated predictive capability to identify the potential for a toxic event.

The results from qPCR testing measures gene copies for total Cyanobacteria and gene copies for specific toxins, including Microcystin/Nodularin, Cylindrospermopsin, and Saxitoxin, quantitatively identifying the specific toxins and genes. These results can provide some forecasting for the algal bloom’s ability to produce one or more of these dangerous toxins prior to the toxins being released into the water. Thus the use of qPCR results in the water management plan can help recreational water program managers and public health officials attempt to proactively prevent the release of toxins, in addition to reacting to the toxins that are already present.

qPCR testing also helps to save on the costs of algaecides and other chemical treatments by allowing operators to intervene earlier and provide more localized treatment. qPCR testing allows operators to distinguish toxin producers from other algae ensuring that treatments are not applied unnecessarily.

Alloway offers testing for Cyanobacteria Screening by qPCR, Ohio EPA Method 705.0. If you are interested in learning more about harmful algal toxin testing or to request a quote, please contact us at support@alloway.com.

For more information from the US EPA on cyanobacteria in recreational waters and drinking water, download the below guidance documents:

Recommendations for Public Water Systems to Manage Cyanotoxins in Drinking Water https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/recommendations-public-water-systems-manage-cyanotoxins-drinking

Monitoring and Responding to Cyanobacteria and Cyanotoxins in Recreational Waters https://www.epa.gov/nutrient-policy-data/monitoring-and-responding-cyanobacteria-and-cyanotoxins-recreational-waters