Genetic screening for blue-green algae

The presence of potentially harmful or nuisance algae in natural and manmade water bodies, and within treatment plants, is an increasing problem across the globe. Melbourne’s extensive waterways are no exception.

blue green algae

Each year, harmful and nuisance algal blooms impact rivers, creeks, reservoirs, urban lakes and wastewater treatment lagoons and may produce toxins and taste-and-odour compounds. Effectively managing these blooms requires time and resources including expensive and time-consuming analytical testing. In addition, there is time spent educating and communicating with stakeholders and the public.

As the climate continues to warm, the frequency and duration of blooms of cyanobacteria (‘blue-green algae’) is predicted to increase. These microbes survive in higher water temperatures and stagnant or slow-flowing water bodies – conditions that are expected in drying and drought-prone catchments.

To address this growing problem, Melbourne Water, in collaboration with the University of Melbourne, has developed an analytical platform for measuring the genes that produce blue-green algae toxins and taste-and-odour compounds. This ‘health-protective’ approach measures the genetic potential for blooms to produce noxious and harmful compounds, instead of whether or not they are currently producing them.

The platform has already assisted the Victorian water industry during the occurrence of Murray River blooms, allowing for effective and timely management decisions and stakeholder communication. At Melbourne Water, this technology is helping ensure that the products we supply are safe for their intended use.

Last updated:
19 April 2021