Tech & Science

PhD Student Uses DNA Sequencing to Study Cyanobacteria

Cyanobacteria blooms are a major environmental issue worldwide. They can have direct impacts on the safety of drinking water supplies by producing a variety of toxins which also impose health risks for swimmers and boaters.

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Although many may associate cyanobacteria with bright green algae seen on the surface of lakes, Ellen Cameron, PhD Candidate in Waterloo’s Biology Department, is using DNA sequencing to study cyanobacteria communities in low-nutrient, clear lakes in Northern Ontario.

“Even though the lakes I’m working in look like stereotypical picturesque lakes of Ontario, they have high abundances of cyanobacteria,” said Cameron. “We are trying to better understand the cyanobacteria communities that are in these lakes by using DNA sequencing to look for specific genetic markers that can tell us about the identity of organisms and what functions they may be performing.”

Cameron is working alongside researchers in professor Monica Emelko’s forWater project. Her research sites are part of a long-term research station operated by Natural Resources Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada in the Turkey Lakes Watershed. Cameron and her team discovered that at some of the sampling points, cyanobacteria composed 60 percent of the total microbial community. Using metagenomic shotgun sequencing, a technique that sequences all of the DNA present in the sample, Cameron and her team were able to recover three high-quality genomes for select cyanobacteria found in the lakes which contain the genetic information for these organisms. This discovery will help to understand the pathways and functions of these organisms further.

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