Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor's Name

John Berry

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Miroslav Gantar

Third Advisor's Name

Kevin O'Shea

Fourth Advisor's Name

Kathleen Rein

Fifth Advisor's Name

Stanislaw Wnuk


cyanobacteria, zebrafish embryos, lipophilic toxins, vertebrate development, cyanotoxins, aphanizomenon, microcystis, cylindrospermopsis

Date of Defense



Cyanobacteria (“blue-green algae”) are known to produce a diverse repertoire of biologically active secondary metabolites. When associated with so-called “harmful algal blooms”, particularly in freshwater systems, a number of these metabolites have been associated - as “toxins”, or commonly “cyanotoxins” - with human and animal health concerns. In addition to the known water-soluble toxins from these genera (i.e. microcystins, cylindrospermopsin, and saxitoxins), our studies have shown that there are metabolites within the lipophilic extracts of these strains that inhibit vertebrate development in zebrafish embryos. Following these studies, the zebrafish embryo model was implemented in the bioassay-guided purification of four isolates of cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms, namely Aphanizomenon, two isolates of Cylindrospermopsis, and Microcystis, in order to identify and chemically characterize the bioactive lipophilic metabolites in these isolates.

We have recently isolated a group of polymethoxy-1-alkenes (PMAs), as potential toxins, based on the bioactivity observed in the zebrafish embryos. Although PMAs have been previously isolated from diverse cyanobacteria, they have not previously been associated with relevant toxicity. These compounds seem to be widespread across the different genera of cyanobacteria, and, according to our studies, suggested to be derived from the polyketide biosynthetic pathway which is a common synthetic route for cyanobacterial and other algal toxins. Thus, it can be argued that these metabolites are perhaps important contributors to the toxicity of cyanobacterial blooms. In addition to the PMAs, a set of bioactive glycosidic carotenoids were also isolated because of their inhibition of zebrafish embryonic development. These pigmented organic molecules are found in many photosynthetic organisms, including cyanobacteria, and they have been largely associated with the prevention of photooxidative damage. This is the first indication of these compounds as toxic metabolites and the hypothesized mode of action is via their biotransformation to retinoids, some of which are known to be teratogenic. Additional fractions within all four isolates have been shown to contain other uncharacterized lipophilic toxic metabolites. This apparent repertoire of lipophilic compounds may contribute to the toxicity of these cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms, which were previously attributed primarily to the presence of the known water-soluble toxins.





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