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04-29-2008

Toxic Metal Cadmium Can Enter Great Lakes Food Chain Through Algae

[A photograph for media use is available at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/twiss.jpg ]

Some algae from the Great Lakes can use cadmium for nutritional requirements. A recent study published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research reports that algae collected from lakes Erie and Ontario can use cadmium, a known toxic metal, as a nutrient replacement for zinc, an essential trace metal.Michael Twiss

This observation makes pollution of our lakes even more of a concern since low levels of pollutants, such as cadmium, in vast offshore areas will be actively sought by microbes like algae and gain entry into the food chain where it can ultimately increase to toxic levels, states lead investigator Michael R. Twiss, a Clarkson University biology professor.

In this study, algae were collected from central regions of Lake Erie and in Lake Ontario from onboard both Canadian Coast Guard and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ships during summer. Once the algae were purified in the laboratory, experiments were conducted under stringent controls needed to assess responses to low levels of these potentially toxic metals.

By carefully removing zinc from the growth media of the algae researchers were able to starve algae of zinc and the growth of these microbes slowed. By then offering low amounts of cadmium, a metal with similar chemical properties to zinc, the algae were able to resume their growth. A similar observation was made by providing the zinc-starved algae with cobalt, another trace metal that is chemically closely related to zinc.

Results of this study, "Nutritive Substitution of Zinc by Cadmium and Cobalt in Phytoplankton Isolated from the Lower Great Lakes," are reported by Asha Intwala, Tara D. Patey, Damien M. Polet and Michael R. Twiss in the latest issue (Volume 34, No. 1, pp. 1-11) of the Journal of Great Lakes Research, published by the International Association for Great Lakes Research (IAGLR), 2008.

Since 1967, IAGLR (http://www.iaglr.org) has served as the focal point for compiling and disseminating multidisciplinary knowledge on North America's Laurentian Great Lakes and other large lakes of the world and their watersheds. In part, IAGLR communicates this knowledge through publication of the Journal of Great Lakes Research.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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