We are a group of freshwater ecologists from the Biology Department at St. Catherine University in Saint Paul, Minnesota studying the effect of temperature and nutrient availability on metabolism and nitrogen fixation in geothermally active streams in the Hengill region of Iceland. This is a collaborative research effort with our partners from Montana State University, the University of Alabama, the University of Iceland, and the Institute of Freshwater Fisheries in Iceland. See links to our collaborators labs below.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

I Love Cyanotoxins!

I love working in Hengill!
It’s been great to be back in Iceland for another summer field work. I have returned with experience, many new questions and never-ending curiosity. In my time since last summer, I completed my senior year at St. Kate’s during which I had the incredible opportunity to work with Dr. Welter to continue research on the Iceland project. During the year I explored the effects of temperature on the biodiversity of algal communities. During my spring semester, I also developed a strong interest in cyanotoxins. Cyanotoxins are secondary metabolites produced by some cyanobacteria that are harmful to human health. The more I learned about these toxins, the more I wanted to know. I found out that while there has been a lot of research on cyanotoxins, there are still many questions and uncertainties surrounding them.

Samples of cyanobacteria
The project effort currently underway in Hengill utilizes the natural temperature gradient present across multiple streams to understand how stream communities and processes are affected by temperature. As I read more about how cyanotoxin production is strongly influenced by nutrients and temperature, I realized that this Iceland field site might be a great place to gain a better understanding of cyanotoxins. If any cyanotoxins are detected in Hengill, these streams could provide insight into how toxin production changes along a temperature gradient in stream ecosystems. 

In the time between sample processing, lab work and long field days, I have been developing ideas on how to best collect samples and test for cyanotoxins across a temperature gradient. There are many kinds of cyanotoxins and they can be produced by many different species of cyanobacteria. Trying to understand the details of cyanotoxins can seem overwhelming at times but it’s also what I find intriguing about them and is what motivates me to keep learning more. Regardless of what my samples amount to, I know this experience is helping me become a better scientist. I don’t see my interest in cyanotoxins fading anytime soon and I hope to have to opportunity to study them more in the future. πŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’š

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