student using microscope to test water sample


Cyanotoxins are produced by a type of photosynthetic bacteria called cyanobacteria, and can be highly toxic to humans and animals. Microcystin, anatoxin-a, saxitoxins, BMAA, and cylindrospermopsin are examples of cyanotoxins that commonly occur in New Jersey waters. Acute exposure to these toxins can involve skin irritation, nausea, and diarrhea. Human health effects depend on the specific toxin(s) involved: microcystins and cylindrospermopsin inhibit normal liver function, while anatoxin-a can damage the nervous system. Health advisories for both drinking and recreational waters have been developed to minimize exposure to microcystins, anatoxin-a, saxitoxins and cylindrospermopsin.

At NJCWST, we are certified by New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to accurately determine the level of total microcystins in surface waters (USEPA Method 546). EPA Method 546 applies the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) to quantify the Adda amino acid side chain, a chemical structure common to a range of microcystin variants. The ELISA approaches have been well established and widely applied to quantify cyanotoxins in drinking and surface waters. We also offer ELISA testing for quantification of anatoxin-a, saxitoxins, BMAA and cylindrospermopsin. Each cyanotoxin may consist of variants with a wide range of chemical structures. While ELISA quantifies a group of variants that share common chemical structure, Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry/Mass Spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) is capable of quantifying specific chemical variants of cyanotoxin at lower concentrations (USEPA Method 544 and 545).

An alternative approach to monitor harmful cyanobacterial blooms is to quantify cyanobacteria and cyanotoxin-producing cyanobacteria using the real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR). This genetic assay improves sensitivity in detections compared to manual microscopic cell counting or cyanotoxin quantification using ELISA. Genetic approaches can serve as a screening tool to reduce the need for cell counting and thus expedite the process of Harmful Cyanobacterial Blooms confirmation. At NJCWST, we offer quantification of cyanobacteria and dominant taxa as well as cyanotoxin-producing markers (microcystins, anatoxin-a, cylindrospermopsin, and saxitoxis) by qPCR.