Hope for Controlling Zebra Mussels

European imports, Zebra mussels have become a huge invasive species problem throughout the Great Lakes region where they proliferate in freshwater lakes, forming monocultures of the critters on beaches, boats, docs, power plant intakes, and other natural or human-made surfaces. Right now, all eyes in the West are on the zebra’s close cousin, the quagga mussel which has made inroads into the Colorado River–and therefore could be on Oregon’s doorstep soon as a hitchhiker on a recreational boat. So it is good news to know that researchers in New York have come upon a new tool–a bacterial toxin–for controlling the zebra mussel. We can only hope the same types of tools are applicable to the quagga. Read more on the topic at Albany’s Times Union by clicking here. The article is exerpted below:

mussel-message.jpgCAMBRIDGE — A small laboratory in the rolling farmland of northern Washington County may have dealt a real setback to the zebra mussel, a tiny striped mollusk that infests waters of New York and about two dozen other states.

Years of research at the former state fish hatchery have found an environmentally safe way to slow the invader from southern Russia. Hundreds of millions have spread to lakes, rivers and the plumbing of power plants two decades after showing up in the Great Lakes in the ballast water of ocean-going freighters.

Daniel Molloy, director of the State Museum’s Field Research Laboratory, expects mass production of a natural toxin he discovered for zebra mussels to begin in 2010.

A half-million-dollar, two-year grant from the National Science Foundation will support work by California-based Marrone Organic Innovations, which has a state contract to sell the toxin.

It could mean power plants and other places that need to control mussels can stop using chlorine, a powerful chemical that also kills fish and other aquatic life, and leaves cancer-causing compounds in the water.

“This is very exciting,” said Molloy. “We started looking at this in 1991, and now are moving toward commercialization.” In 2001, Molloy found his natural assassin — a simple freshwater bacterium called pseudomonas fluorescens strain CLO145.

The bacteria, which was patented by the state, contains a toxin that destroys the mussel’s digestive system by giving it something akin to a fatal bleeding ulcer. It does not harm other aquatic life.

Still, Molloy warned the toxin is not a “silver bullet” to eradicate zebra mussels from every body of water. “Look at it more in terms of control,” he said.

Large lakes would require too much of the toxin to economically treat them completely, he said, although treatment could be effective in smaller areas, like swimming beaches.

Locally, infested lakes include Ballston and Saratoga lakes in Saratoga County; Lake George and Glen Lake, Warren County; and Hedges Lakes, Washington County. Lake Champlain, as well as Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, also are infested.

Molloy said the state will get part of any profits from the sale of the toxin. “I won’t get a nickel from this. I am a civil servant. Maybe I can get an extra vacation day,” Molloy said with a laugh.

Thanks to Joan Cabreza, Wetland Scientist & Regional Invasive Species Coordinator, US Environmental Protection Agency for this and other contributions to H2ONC. Happy retirement Joan–you will be missed!


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