Researchers link algae to harmful estrogen-like compound in water

Feb 16, 2011

University of Tennessee, Knoxville, researchers have found that blue-green algae may be responsible for producing an estrogen-like compound in the environment which could disrupt the normal activity of reproductive hormones and adversely affect fish, plants and human health. Previously, human activities were thought solely responsible for producing these impacts.

Theodore Henry, an adjunct professor for UT Knoxville's Center for Environmental Biotechnology and faculty at the University of Plymouth, and his colleagues looked into blue-green , or , and their effects on zebrafish. They discovered the algae may add a new harmful element into the way they understand and investigate alga blooms in aquatic systems.

Using funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ecology of (ECOHAB), the scientists uncovered how exposure to the blue-green algae called Microcystis induced a response consistent with exposure to estrogen-like compounds in larval fish.

The research can be found in the article "Global in Larval Zebrafish Exposed to Microcystin-LR and Microcystis Reveals Endocrine Disrupting Effects of Cyanobacteria" in the American Chemical Society's journal, & Technology.

Researchers compared groups of larval zebrafish exposed to Microcystis cells with those exposed to just the well-studied toxin they produce and found that only the fish in contact with the blue-green algal cells tested positive for a well-studied estrogenic biomarker. This led them to conclude the algal blooms were producing a previously unrecognized substance which is an estrogen-like compound that acts as an endocrine disruptor.

"The induction of these genes is consistent with presence of an estrogen and it is possible that many adverse affects may occur in fish populations," said Henry, "from physical feminization of male fish to behavioral changes, increased environmental estrogen levels can impact male territorial defending and even their nest-building habit. Environmentally released estrogen has not been shown to affect reproduction, but studies are still being conducted on the subject."

Possible human health effects include skin rashes, fever and liver damage. Henry and colleagues note that harmful blooms of toxin-producing algae occur in waters throughout the world and are a growing health and environmental concern. As a result, the scientists are calling for a revision of environmental monitoring programs to watch for these new substances.

Explore further: Should the role of afforestation in climate change mitigation policy be re-evaluated?

Provided by University of Tennessee at Knoxville

4 /5 (2 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

International experts weigh-in on harmful algal blooms

Jan 06, 2009

Cambridge, Md. - An international group of scientists is linking nutrient pollution in the world's coastal seas to an increase in the number of harmful algal blooms reported in recent years. When harmful algal blooms (HAB's) ...

DNA tests could help predict, prevent harmful algal blooms

Sep 30, 2008

A paper published in the current issue of the International Journal of Environment and Pollution, explains how a DNA test can be used to detect harmful algal blooms across the globe. The approach outlined could help reduce ...

Noxious algae gone, but who knows how long

Jan 03, 2007

Recent storms may have washed away algae blooms in a Florida chain of lakes, but experts said algae threats remain because of pollution feeding the lakes.

Recommended for you

Global warming cynics unmoved by extreme weather

27 minutes ago

What will it take to convince skeptics of global warming that the phenomenon is real? Surely, many scientists believe, enough droughts, floods and heat waves will begin to change minds.

New tool displays West Coast ocean acidification data

57 minutes ago

Increasing carbon dioxide in the air penetrates into the ocean and makes it more acidic, while robbing seawater of minerals that give shellfish their crunch. The West Coast is one of the first marine ecosystems ...

US northeast braces for flooding after record snow

17 hours ago

Weather forecasters and emergency officials warned Sunday that melting snow would lead to heavy flooding in parts of the US northeast, with hundreds of thousands of people told to brace for fast-rising waters.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.