UCI technology detects, monitors toxic algae bloom prompting 3-day ban on drinking tap water in Ohio

Blue-green algae bloom on the shore of Catawba Island, Ohio, in Lake Erie, summer 2009. Credit: NOAA

Blue-green algae bloom on the shore of Catawba Island, Ohio, in Lake Erie, summer 2009. Credit: NOAA

Residents of Toledo, Ohio, were warned not to drink tap water earlier this month when officials found dangerously high levels of toxins from algae in Lake Erie, the source of potable water for 500,000 people. Blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, release toxins called microcystins that, when swallowed, can cause stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, headaches, fever and, ultimately, liver damage. The growth of the algae is blamed on chemical pollutants that flow into the lake from fertilizers, failing septic tanks and power plant emissions, according to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. The outbreak of the toxin was identified and monitored using technology developed by Richard Chamberlin, professor and chair of pharmaceutical sciences at UC Irvine, in collaboration with professor Daniel Dietrich of Germany’s University of Konstanz and licensed to Abraxis LLC, a Pennsylvania-based biotech firm, through UCI’s Office of Technology Alliances. The patented technology, known as the Abraxis Microcystins-ADDA ELISA kit, detects microcystins and nodularins (another algae toxin) in water samples. Ohio officials placed a three-day ban on drinking water, lifting it once water tested at safe levels. Toxic blooms are an emerging issue worldwide due to increased water pollution caused by industrial sources. The Office of Technology Alliances fosters faculty/industry partnerships and the commercialization of UCI technology for public benefit. It works to ensure that federal, state and private investments in UCI research have the greatest possible positive impact on people and the economy. “The versatile technology, developed in part at UC Irvine, provides a simple and affordable way to ensure the safety of our drinking water,” said Maria Tkachuk, OTA licensing officer for life sciences.

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