ATRAPP Project – Algal Blooms, Treatment, Risk Assessment, Prediction and Prevention Through Genomics
The ATRAPP project is probably the world’s largest research initiative on blue-green algae. It has a budget of $12.3 million over four years and it aims to provide a better understanding of cyanobacteria, their identification and propagation modes. It will propose solutions for strategic management of harmful proliferation episodes.
The project started last Autumn 2016, it will allow to define new biomarkers, to create a tool box combining chemistry and genomics to identify toxicity risks, and to facilitate prevention and treatment of bloom episodes as well as toxic sludge treatment.
As a whole, this project will follow toxins from lakes, to treatment plants, to their impacts on Canadians. We will use chemical and genomic tools to identify biomarkers of toxicity, providing the basis for the next generation of sensitive, accurate diagnostics (Act. 1). The same tools will be used to measure the effectiveness of different water treatment strategies, improving how treatment plant operators efficiently prevent toxins from entering the drinking water supply (Act. 2). The new diagnostic and treatment practices will undergo cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analyses, in the context of social, economic and political methods to reduce the impacts of HCBs (Act. 3). This will allow municipalities, citizens and end users to choose which practices best suit their needs, ultimately leading to reduced impacts and costs of HCBs.
A chemical-genomic diagnostic toolkit to assess the risk of toxicity in water source and to guide prevention and treatment strategies. “Do not use water” advisories are currently based on cyanobacterial counts and quick ELISA tests for microcystins, which do not detect other common toxins or adsorbed toxins. Decisions based on such data can lead to overly cautious responses (causing unnecessary socioeconomic costs) and conversely fail to identify other sites where toxic blooms could remain unreported. Water authorities need better diagnostic tools and updated guidelines to assess risk and to promote the right prevention and treatment strategies. We will sample lakes across Canada and the world, and perform mesocosm experiments to explore conditions that could favor blooms and toxicity. We will analyze these samples with a combination of genomics (including metagenomics and metatranscriptomics) and analytical chemistry to develop molecular diagnostics of toxicity risk, which will be tested and validated in Canadian lakes.
Photo credit: Ines Levade
Best treatment practices to prevent toxin breakthrough into drinking water and ensure safe disposal of toxic sludge. This deliverable will be the output of Activity 2, in which we use the same genomic and chemical assays from Activity 1 to: 1) establish the impact of inactivation treatment processes on the microbial community, especially shifts in toxin-encoding cyanobacteria and toxin gene expression; 2) monitor the accumulation of cyanobacteria in drinking water processes (filters, clarifiers, etc.) and identify the triggers for in-plant survival/growth of HCBs and the production of toxins within the plant; 3) develop and validate chemical oxidation and bioprocesses to detoxify water and sludge.
Photo credit: Arash Zamyadi
The first short-term deliverable will assess the socioeconomic benefits of better detection and prediction of HCBs. It will help select which agro-environmental practice (AEP) provide the most beneficial impacts and should be targeted for the cost-sharing. The cost-benefit analysis (CBA) of treatment options will also provide the necessary information for water treatment authorities to decide upon investment for improved treatment. This will allow us to propose a cost-sharing model (i.e. Payment for ecosystem services program (PES)) in a second long-term deliverable. In the end, Deliverable 3 will incorporate the socioeconomic evaluation of the proposed short-term and long-term solutions to yield optimal cost sharing strategies within the communities affected by HCBs.
Photo credit: Sylvie Wood
The project will link researchers, governmental actors, legislators, municipalities representatives, environmental groups, farmers, businesses and citizens, through the work analysis at local, national and international levels.
The project will be supported by the expertise of a dozen researchers of the Université de Montréal campus, including HEC Montréal and Polytechnique as well as a number of collaborators and partners to propose long-term preventive and cost-effective strategies, in order to assure the protection of water bodies as drinking water sources and habitats.
Blue-green algae, known as cyanobacteria, occur naturally at low levels in water bodies. While they are not generally a cause for concern, this changes when, due to warmth (increased temperatures from climate change), light or nutrients (from agricultural or municipal releases), they “bloom” in aquatic ecosystems, producing and releasing cyanotoxins. These toxins, when ingested by humans or animals, can cause illness and even death. Even skin contact, from showering or swimming, can be toxic.
Such outbreaks, in addition to posing a threat to humans, livestock, fish and wildlife, are extremely costly (estimated at US$825 million in the United States and US$330 million in Australia).
In Canada, a growing number of drinking water treatment facilities, including those fed by the Great Lakes, the source of water for 8.5 million Canadians, are now considered at risk. They need to install costly treatment barriers to remove cyanobacteria and their toxins.
Photos by : 1) Ariane Comeau. 2) Lake Erie, September 6th, 2015 (Nasa WorldView). 3,4) BlueLeaf