Victor Cai
Victor Cai
Year: 2019
Faculty Advisor: Fay-Wei Li
Mentor: Fay-Wei Li

Exploring the Metagenome of the Harmful Algal Bloom Community in Cayuga Lake

Harmful algal blooms (HABs) form green films that cover lakes and rivers during warmer months. Such blooms can last from a few short hours up to several months and come at a profound ecological and economic cost. Cyanobacteria are one of the contributors to such HABs. The films they form can block sunlight and deplete oxygen needed by plant and animal life. Additionally, cyanobacteria release neurotoxins that can damage mammalian nerve tissue, posing a serious danger to both humans and aquatic mammals. HABs are primarily triggered by a surplus of nutrients in the water, nitrogen and phosphate in particular. Runoff from excessive fertilizer use in agriculture combined with increasing temperatures due to global warming only increase the frequency and severity of these HABs. Despite this, we have limited knowledge of the microbial diversity of HABs. Modern sequencing technologies, however, can elucidate these community compositions. We aim to analyze the metagenome of the Cayuga Lake waters to draw associations between microbial compositions and future HABs. Metagenomic sequencing using a nanopore MinION DNA sequencer revealed that 41% of metagenomic reads were assigned to cyanobacteria. Based on ribosomal 16S sequences, the major cyanobacteria is likely to be Dolichospernum spp. In addition, 52% of the reads belong to proteobacteria orders including Rhizobiales (19%), Sphingomonadales (11%), Burkholderiales (4%), Rhodospirillales (3%), and Pelagibacterales (3%). This study is one of the few that characterizes the metagenome of HABs. These results will contribute to future research linking microbial composition with cyanobacteria blooms. Further studies are necessary to examine how these organism interact to form HABs and their ecological effects.


My Experience

I can happily say that I have gained so much from my summer spent at Boyce Thompson Institute. Under the guidance of my mentor, Dr. Fay-Wei Li, I was able to learn a variety of new lab techniques and procedures, all while being encouraged to become a better problem-solver and a more independent researcher. Through my project, I had the rewarding opportunity to see my efforts come full circle, taking part in every step from start to finish. Outside of my work, the resources I acquired and connections I built have been invaluable. It was a treat to share insight with my fellow interns and lab members, as well as gain practical wisdom and advice from the faculty and professors I met. Their energy and excitement for their scientific work was infectious and these people have only spurred my passion for research and plant biology. I feel confident in my ability to succeed in a scientific career and will never forget the amazing experience I had with the REU at BTI.