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Wayne State University receives grant from USGS to advance ecological restoration efforts in the Great Lakes

March 21, 2014
Donna Kashin (Top) and Jeffery Ram (Bottom)

DETROIT — Foreign mussels hitchhiking to the Great Lakes in the ballast water tanks of international freighters are becoming one of the most vexing environmental problems facing the Great Lakes. A group of scientists from Wayne State University, in collaboration with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the Environmental Protection Agency, are working together to battle this problem.

This invasion of zebra mussels and quagga mussels have caused dramatic ecological effects on the Great Lakes’ ecosystems, including changes in fish abundance, local extinction of native mussels and profound changes in benthic invertebrates, organisms that live on the bottom of bodies of water that are important to decomposition of organic matter and more.

With the help of a grant from the United States Geological Survey (USGS), scientists from Wayne State University are heading up research to help identify a chemical found in algae that may inhibit spawning in the invasive zebra and quagga mussels. The research, led by Donna Kashian, Ph.D., assistant professor of biological sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Jeffrey Ram, professor of physiology in the School of Medicine, will work to identify these chemical cues released by algae and determine how they can be used to develop an ecological-scale control strategy to disrupt reproduction. 

“Our preliminary research has demonstrated that algae produce chemicals that can stimulate or inhibit zebra and quagga mussels spawning,” said Kashian. “The stimulatory chemicals may be the normal triggers of spawning that signal when conditions are amenable to larval development, whereas the inhibitory algal chemicals may be protective or toxic signals that prevent predation by mussel adults and larvae.”

Because of this preliminary research, they are working to identify and deploy algal chemicals — which are potentially species-specific natural products — to regulate mussel reproduction to reduce their populations at ecosystem scales. 

“Instead of focusing on toxic, non-specific chemicals to kill mussels, such as those used in water treatment facilities and power stations, we hope inhibit them by natural chemical cues released by algae that ultimately will disrupt reproduction,” added Kashian. 

The grant was funded through the USGS from the EPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative with a first year total of $135,000, and an anticipated overall total of nearly $320,000. The grant’s cooperative agreement number is G14AC00017. 

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Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit http://www.research.wayne.edu.