More than 12 million Chinese rely on Lake Taihu for drinking water but about 20 years ago the once pristine lake turned pea green. It had become overrun with toxic blue-green algae which can damage the liver, intestines and nervous system.
Two researchers from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will be working on an international team funded by two new National Science Foundation awards totaling $2.5 million to resolve the ecosystem balance in the lake. Their work could help safeguard America's water supply.
"China provides a unique opportunity to test ideas and management efforts in highly polluted and nutrient enriched lakes that we predict we will see in North America in the coming decades," said Jennifer DeBruyn, an assistant professor in the Department for Biosystems Engineering and Soil Sciences.
DeBruyn and Steven Wilhelm, professor of microbiology, will team with an international group of researchers and students to combine molecular biology, ecological analysis and environmental remediation. Their goal is to create mathematical models of how ecosystems function based on quantitative data generated by state-of-the-art molecular biological techniques. They will then provide an informed strategy to Chinese government officials.
"Over the past three decades, industrial effluents, farm runoff, and sewage have besieged Lake Taihu, pushing its ecosystem critically out of balance," said Wilhelm. "In the summer, when lake surface temperatures heat up, blue-green algae blooms with a vengeance."
Just as the saying goes "it takes a village to raise a child," Wilhelm says a toxic algal bloom has many parents. The researchers will examine all the organisms that could be contributing to the blooms, including looking at what they are consuming and the waste products they are creating for a comprehensive picture of how the blooms are created.
"We will literally be counting the activity of genes in dif
|Contact: Whitney Heins|
University of Tennessee at Knoxville