First hurdle cleared in search for microbial biocontrol agents against AIS
MAISRC researchers have discovered that some aquatic invasive species, specifically Eurasian watermilfoil and zebra mussels, harbor a distinct set of microorganisms when compared to their surrounding sediment and water.
This research, which was conducted at dozens of lakes throughout the state, shows that the microbial community is different enough that biocontrol using microorganisms may be an option.
“These results are promising enough that we feel it’s important to advance to the next phase of the search for biocontrol candidates,” said researcher Prince Mathai. “This will include lab trials on native species as well to limit non-target impacts. Finding a microorganism that is harmful to Eurasian watermilfoil or zebra mussels could be a game-changer for controlling these nuisance species.”
Through this first phase of research, scientists also discovered that Eurasian watermilfoil is harboring an increased abundance of fecal indicator bacteria such as E. coli and Enterococcus. Elevated levels of these bacteria in beaches or other recreational waters can have serious public health implications.
All plants and animals are covered in microorganisms; some have evolved to live in close association with aquatic organisms. These relationships may be commensal, symbiotic, or pathogenic. MAISRC researchers believe some of the pathogenic relationships could hold a key for biocontrol.
The samples of zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil and their accompanying water and sediment are now being processed for physicochemical and microbiological analysis in the lab. In addition to providing valuable information on potential biocontrols, this study may also allow us to develop molecular marker methods to ascertain the presence/absence of these AIS and quantify their abundance in lakes.