Alternatives Solutions for Harmful Cyanobacteria Blooms

by kjohn10 on April 17, 2015 - 9:29pm

The previous blog posts covered topics: biology and ecology of cyanobacteria, harmful aspects of cyanobacteria blooms and how humans are influencing the frequency of blooms. This post will focus on the future issues of cyanobacteria and how humans can utilize them to their benefit.

We now understand that cyanobacteria can impose on ecological functions of aquatic habitats and concerns for human health. We also know they are ecological strategist and this allows them to inhabit some of the harshest ecosystems on planet earth. Because of their biology and molecular processes they can proliferate to unprecedented levels when management practices are not followed.

Currently there is not much we can do once the blooms have started. However future outlook seems promising.  With innovation and technology, scientists are creating new ways to use cyanobacteria. Currently cyanobacteria are viewed as detrimental and a nuisance, but cyanobacteria have the potential to be profitable in many sciences as well as in economics.

The world’s current and future energy demand calls for sustainable alternative practices to restrict further global warming. Harvesting solar energy via photosynthesis to ‘produce’ energy and exploit both algae and cyanobacteria to produce biofuel is an example of a new innovation. Since cyanobacterium convert carbon dioxide into glycogen for energy, scientists discovered that photosynthesis can be redirected to produce lipids and valuable organic acids. Scientists have sequenced genomes to alter genes so that the organism produces more lipid content than carbohydrates. After manipulation of the genes, scientist can extract the oils that can then be converted to biofuel. Establishing photosynthetic organisms to produce biofuels directly would limit the need for fossil fuels. Cyanobacteria have great potential for biofuel production because of their fast growth, ability to fix carbon dioxide gas, and genetic tractability. In addition they do not require arable land for growth which would reduce competition for cropland.

Cyanobacteria have also been researched for potential applications in industrial effluents. The biodiversity of cyanobacteria and treatment of domestic and industrial effluents have received more attention in recent years. They have the capacity to utilize nitrogenous compounds, ammonia and phosphate, in addition to accumulate metal ions Cr, Co, Cu, Zn effectively. Immobilized cyanobacteria have been reported to be a considerable success. Some strains of cyanobacteria have been use in paper mills, and water treatment plants to treat sewage, and even in diary and dye industries. However they have not been commercially exploited. Interestingly enough they can also remove pesticides. Bioaccumulation of residual insecticides in phytoplankton is biologically and toxicology significant (which constitutes as the primary produces in food chains). Cyanobacteria can combat bioaccumulation/biomagnification. Reports have shown that cyanobacteria accumulate high concentrations of insecticides but the genera Mycrocytes and a few others are able to degrade many organophosphates and organochlorines insecticides from aquatic systems. If the right strains are chosen, cyanobacteria can be mass produced in waste water lagoon to degrade organic matter, and remove pollutants such as insecticides and metals.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of harvesting cyanobacteria to benefit human activities is using these organisms as a cancer treatment. Cancer is one of the leading causes for human death worldwide.  Anticancer treatment has taken the pathway towards nanotechnology using multifunctional nanomaterial that target cancer or tumor cells, deliver therapeutic drugs and monitor the tumors tissues. Nanotechnologies now use biological resources to help clients. They have developed a way to reduce ecological concern and economic problems using cyanobacteria in cancer treatments. A cyanobacterium possesses green carbon dots or G-dots, which are stable in aqueous solutions permitting their use in the biomedical applications.  Comparatively to previous inorganic and metallic aqueous solutions, G-dots can be used to improve clinical outcomes. This is because G-dot process several functional groups (OH, C=O, O-C-OH) that enable attachment to anticancer drugs to increase their water solubility and ultimately uptake of the drug.

Utilizing harmful cyanobacteria blooms to our own benefit is innovative but yet simple. The generation of harmful cyanobacteria impact humans and ecosystems, not to mention human populations and activities increase the potential for harm. Therefore finding ways to recycle these organisms into useful products is needed for environmental sustainability and economic benefit. The age of discovery to find new land and resources is over, humanity must now educate and learn how to cultivate and renew energy sources. The current technology and ability of biology holds great promise for sustainable fuel production if done effectively.


Hyun, U.L. et al. 2014. Photoluminescent carbon nanotags from harmful cyanobacteria for drug delivery and imaging in cancer cells. Scientific Reports 4:4665.

Lindblad, P., P. Lindberg, P.Lindber, P. Oliveria, K. Stensjo, and T. Heidorn. 2012.  Design Engineering, and Construction of Photosynthetic Microbial Cell Factories for Renewable Solar Fuel Production. Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. 41: 163-168.

Vijayakumar, S. 2012. Potential Applications of Cyanobacteria in Industrial Effluents-A Review. Bioremediation & Biodegradation 3:6.