Cyanobacterial blooms are a global water quality concern that affects drinking water, recreational areas, and irrigation systems. These blooms not only cause ecological disruption and unpleasant water aesthetics but also produce harmful toxins that pose serious health risks to humans and animals.

Water Research Australia’s latest project provides a comprehensive review and practical guidance on integrating molecular testing methods into cyanobacterial bloom management.

Traditional methods for assessing bloom toxicity, such as cell counting and direct toxin detection, have limitations in cost, accuracy, and timeliness.

The research, conducted at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI), highlights the potential of molecular methods, particularly quantitative PCR (qPCR) methods, which can detect and quantify cyanotoxin biosynthesis genes more efficiently and accurately. This approach offers several advantages, including cost-effectiveness, rapid turnaround times, and enhanced ability to forecast bloom toxicity.

Despite the proven benefits of these molecular methods, they are not yet widely adopted in routine testing due to a lack of standardised guidelines for interpreting gene detection results within current risk assessment frameworks. The project addresses this gap by:

  • Reviewing the literature on molecular diagnostics for cyanotoxin genes, with a focus on their application and effectiveness.
  • Evaluating the economic and operational benefits of integrating these methods into routine cyanobacterial risk assessments.
  • Assessing the performance of molecular methods in routine applications and whether they can supplement or provide an alternative to traditional diagnostic approaches.
  • Providing recommendations for incorporating gene testing into existing risk assessment protocols, drawing on precedents established around the world.

For the water industry, this research is highly relevant as it proposes a scientifically robust and economically viable approach to support managing cyanobacterial blooms. By integrating gene testing into routine water quality assessments, water management groups can improve the accuracy and timeliness of forecasting bloom toxicity, leading to better-informed decisions and more effective protection of public health and ecosystems.

This new research is exclusively available for WaterRA members to download now.