Wednesday, November 17, 2010

State Museum Enters Invasives Fight With ‘Biopesticides’

The New York State Museum has received a $1 million federal grant to conduct a new research project aimed at protecting endangered species of native freshwater mussels from the impacts of invasive zebra mussels.

With the grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), through its Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Museum scientists will use what they are calling an “environmentally safe invention – a biopesticide” to continue their research with a new emphasis on open water applications. The project will be led by Museum research scientists Daniel Molloy and Denise Mayer.

The Museum will collaborate with two federal institutions along the Mississippi River – the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Genoa National Fish Hatchery and the U.S. Geological Survey’s Upper Midwest Environmental Services Center – to develop protocols to protect native freshwater mussels, many of which have been listed as threatened or endangered species, often due to the lethal impacts caused by zebra mussels covering their shells.

The EPA grant will allow Museum scientists to pursue a new aspect of the use of this biopesticide by exploring its effectiveness in lakes and rivers as a way to protect native freshwater mussels from the lethal fouling of zebra mussels and their close relatives, quagga mussels. They will also examine the impact of the biopesticide on the species of fish and native mussels that could be present in a river or lake when the product is applied to open waters. This environmental safety information is expected to allow fishery and native mussel conservationists to select the most appropriate treatment regimes for their needs to help reduce the impacts of zebra mussels.

“This is an exciting research opportunity since we’ll be developing real protocols using a technology that was invented here at the Museum to help protect native freshwater mussels — some of the most imperiled aquatic animals in North America,” said Mayer, the scientist who will manage the project.

Mayer and Molloy’s prior research focused on finding a remedy for the clogging of pipe systems by zebra mussels and quagga mussels in industrial systems, such as power plants that use water for energy production or cooling. This results in billions of dollars in economic damage due to lost production and costs for remediation. The chemical treatment of these industrial pipe systems to reduce these mussel infestations risks polluting lakes and rivers. Scientists at the Museum’s Field Research Laboratory in Cambridge, led by Dr. Molloy, sought to discover an environmentally safe control method, and screened over 700 bacteria before identifying a strain of the common bacterium Pseudomonas fluorescens as being lethal to these mussels when ingested.

Museum scientists also discovered that dead cells of this strain were equally as lethal as live cells, providing clear evidence that the mussels died from a natural toxin in the cells, not from infection. This is very significant because it means that future commercial formulations will contain dead cells, thus further reducing environmental concerns. Testing at the Cambridge laboratory also revealed the extraordinary selectivity of the bacteria in killing zebra and quagga mussels without killing other aquatic organisms, including fish and other species of freshwater clams and mussels. Marrone Bio Innovations of Davis, CA is expected to make the Pseudomonas fluorescens product commercially available in 2011 following biopesticide registration by the EPA.

Photo: Zebra mussel-encrusted current meter from Lake Michigan. Courtesy Wikipedia.

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