Cyanobacteria & Phytoplankton
Phycology is the study of algae. Phytoplankton is a general term, often used to refer to all photosynthetic aquatic plants, including the cyanobacteria. However, the phytoplankton, other than cyanobacteria, are usually separated into two main groups; macro and micro algae. This is because they are analysed using different methods for different purposes. They are also usually different fields of specialty within the study of phycology and at JHC, we specialise in cyanobacteria and other microalgae from a wide variety of environments, including: Fresh, Brackish, and Marine.

Cyanobacteria and Phytoplankton

These prokaryotic, primitive organisms are fascinating. Highly adaptable and opportunistic, they have several adaptations that allows them to out-compete other algae in our waterways.

Interestingly, if it weren’t for cyanobacteria, we wouldn’t exist. They were the first photosynthetic organism to exist and created our atmosphere that allowed the evolution of all other complex life on earth, including the dinosaurs.

Some cyanobacteria have the ability to produce toxic compounds and ongoing research discovers new toxin producers each year. The detection and measurement of toxins requires sensitive and specialised instrumental chemical analysis. In water quality, cyanobacteria blooms can have a significant impact on the parameters monitored, including:

  • pH;
  • Dissolved oxygen (DO);
  • Laboratory set-up, management practices and Quality Assurance
  • Turbidity; and
  • Temperature.

It is critical a laboratory performing cyanobacterial identification, enumeration and biovolume has the ability to accurately and reliably identify potential toxin producers to species level, and that results are produced for the client within short turnaround times. This ensures:

  • Correct toxin can be analysed for type of cyanobacteria present;
  • Risk assessments for recreational exposure can be completed; and
  • Laboratory set-up, management practices and Quality Assurance
  • Efficacy in treatment of potable water is maintained.

Potentially Toxic Cyanobacteria

These species are a subset of cyanobacteria that have the ability to produce toxins but may not always do so. Depending on the toxin they produced it can primarily affect the liver, nervous system, or dermal and mucosal lining in both humans and animals. Toxins pose a major risk to livestock and can cause significant illness and death. The losses can be devastating.

Other Phytoplankton

The health of a waterbody is often indicated by the variety of aquatic life present. Generally, the greater the variety, the healthier the water. Environmental surveys sometimes require total phytoplankton analysis to assess the health of a site. Many microalgae do not pose a health threat to humans and animals upon exposure, as cyanobacteria do. Analysis of other phytoplankton is often performed to genus level, or broader and generic taxonomic groups, depending on purpose of analysis.

Research and Development

JHC is actively engaged in research and development projects concerning cyanobacteria, phytoplankton and environmental water. JHC is currently developing a range of environmental tools in collaboration with D2K Information, as modules within their Information Engine ™ platform.

Lindsay Hunt is an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow at Griffith University, Faculty of Environment and Science, and JHC is to become an industry partner in a new diagnostic hub, currently in development and hopes to commence her PhD project in 2021.