Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science


Molecular Biology Microbiology and Biochemistry

First Advisor

Hamilton-Brehm, Scott

Second Advisor

Brooks, Marjorie


Algal blooms caused by toxigenic cyanobacterial species are an increasing economic burden globally, as high anthropogenic inputs of nitrogen and phosphorous, coupled with rising levels of atmospheric CO2, promote eutrophication and enhance bloom proliferation. Of the freshwater bloom forming species, Microcystis aeruginosa has garnered the most attention due to the production of toxic secondary metabolites known as microcystins. These cyclic peptides are potent eukaryotic protein phosphatase 1 and 2A inhibitors, and can induce hepatic damage if concentration levels reach above the World Health Organization level of 1 µg/L. Current mitigation strategies of water column disruption or by use of broad acting chemicals, are limited in their range and may cause unwanted off target effects to the surrounding biota. Antisense oligonucleotides are short single-stranded DNA polymers that hybridize with transcribed mRNA, and suppress translation of protein products through steric hindrance of ribosomes, or by RNAse H degradation of the DNA/RNA bound complex. While antisense oligonucleotide applications have proven successful in the pharmaceutical industry, their potential remains largely unexplored in environmental contexts. For this reason, we investigated the knockdown of microcystin synthetase gene cluster mcyE in M. aeruginosa. We found that ionic charge neutralization coupled with heat shock were effective chemical competence based methods for delivery, mcyE transcript abundance in cells treated with phosphodiester linked antisense oligonucleotides significantly decreased in RT-qPCR analysis, and production of intracellular microcystin significantly decreased over a 24 hour period (-1.9 fg/cell). This work demonstrates a novel proof of concept for the potential use of exogenous antisense oligonucleotides to target M. aeruginosa in harmful algal bloom occurrences.




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