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Treatment of blue-green algae: Polytechnique Montréal involved in a research project based on genomics

December 9, 2016 - Source : NEWS

Four Polytechnique professors are participating in a project by the Institut EDDEC to identify solutions to manage incidents of cyanobacteria proliferation. This research initiative may be the world’s largest on the topic to date.

L’Institut de l’environnement, du développement durable et de l’économie circulaire (Institute of the Environment, Sustainable Development and the Circular Economy – EDDEC), which includes professors, researchers and students from Polytechnique Montréal, Université de Montréal and HEC Montréal, are conducting the project titled “Algal Blooms: Treatment, Risk Assessment, Prediction and Prevention through Genomics” (ATRAPP). Its aim is to better understand, identify and determine the methods of cyanobacteria propagation that are at the root of blue-green algae.

The goal of the project, begun in the fall of 2016, is to provide a toolbox based on genomics to determine the toxicity risks attributable to the presence of cyanobacteria in bodies of water. These tools will be used by municipalities and those responsible for water quality to establish the strategy to prevent the spread of cyanobacteria, treat the water and safely eliminate blue-green algae.

Water from natural sources does not contain much cyanobacteria, but they bloom when water temperature rises – an increasingly frequent occurrence as a result of climate change – or when there is an increase in natural light or of nutrients derived from agriculture or municipal waste. Under certain conditions, however, cyanobacteria can produce cyanotoxins that can cause illness or death if they are ingested by humans or animals.

The goal of the ATRAPP research project is to boost the efficiency and cut the costs of treating water contaminated by cyanobacteria, as drinking water treatment plants are regularly affected by the presence of blue-green algae.

The Institut EDDEC project has a budget of $12.3 million over four years, of which $3.1 million in cash came from governmental economic organizations Genome Canada and Génome Québec as part of the competition “Canada Natural Resources and the Environment: Sector Challenges – Genomic Solutions” that was launched by Genome Canada. Of that amount, $1.8 million was awarded to Polytechnique Montréal for activities related to the project.

Treatment and prevention through genomics

Four Polytechnique professors will participate in the ATRAPP research project, which is headed by Sébastien Sauvé, professor in the Department of Chemistry at Université de Montréal and outgoing Academic Director of Institut EDDEC.

Sarah Dorner, Associate Professor in the Department of Civil, Geological and Mining Engineering at Polytechnique Montréal, is part of the project’s management team. She will work with colleagues Michèle Prévost and Benoît Barbeau, professors in the same department, and Sophie Bernard, Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics and Industrial Engineering.

Professor Dorner notes that the participants from Polytechnique Montréal will focus their efforts on the technological aspects of the project in order to come up with, in the short term, solutions based on genomics to facilitate the treatment of water and the disposal of toxic effluent in drinking-water treatment plants. Over the long term, researchers will develop diagnostic tools to determine if there is a risk of releasing cyanotoxins during an algal bloom incident before, but also during, water treatment.

“With the help of genomics, tools will make it possible to define if, during a bloom incident, the cyanobacteria genes that are present can be the cause of the production of toxins,” said Professor Dorner. “Moreover, thanks to genomics, it will be possible to determine whether a method applied in a water treatment plant facilitates or prevents the release of cyanotoxins, in order to make changes if necessary.”

According to Professor Dorner, the tools based on genomics that will be developed as a result of the ATRAPP project will be helpful to water treatment plants as well as to the management of bodies of water. She adds that defining the diagnostic tools will require collecting data over a longer period.

Numerous partners

In addition to the participants from the three Campus Montréal establishments, the Institut EDDEC research project includes participants from Université du Québec en Outaouais, McGill University, Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS), Institut de recherche et de développement en agroenvironnement (IRDA), Centre de recherche du Centre hospitalier de Sherbrooke and the National Research Council of Canada.

Also participating in the Institut EDDEC research project are teaching and research institutions in Canada, Brazil, France, New Zealand and England, government stakeholders, municipal representatives, legislators, environmental groups, citizens, farmers and companies.


Left to right: Alejandra Guitron, Coordinator at Institut EDDEC; Jérôme Dupras, Professor in the Department of Natural Sciences at Université du Québec en Outaouais and contributor to the ATRAPP project; Sarah Dorner, Associate Professor in the Department of Civil, Geological and Mining Engineering at Polytechnique Montréal and researcher with the ATRAPP project; Jesse Shapiro, Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Université de Montréal and researcher with the ATRAPP project; Dana Simon, Project Manager at Institut EDDEC; Stéphanie Jagou, Project Manager for Sustainable Development and Communications at Institut EDDEC; Dominique Anglade, Québec Minister of the Economy, Science and Innovation; Daniel Normandin, Executive Director of Institut EDDEC; Micheline Ayoub, Program Manager, Scientific Affairs at Génome Québec; Sébastien Sauvé, Professor in the Department of Chemistry at Université de Montréal, outgoing Academic Director at Institut EDDEC and senior researcher with the ATRAPP project. (Photo credit: Université de Montréal – Amélie Philibert)


Left to right: Benoît Barbeau, Professor in the Department of Civil, Geological and Mining Engineering at Polytechnique Montréal; Sophie Bernard, Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics and industrial engineering at Polytechnique Montréal; Sarah Dorner, Associate Professor in the Department of Civil, Geological and Mining Engineering at Polytechnique Montréal; Michèle Prévost, Professor in the Department of Civil, Geological and Mining Engineering at Polytechnique Montréal.

To learn more
Expertise profile of professor Sarah Dorner
Expertise profile of professor Benoit Barbeau
Expertise profile of professor Sophie Bernard
Expertise profile of professor Michèle Prévost
ATRAPP project page on the Institut EDDEC website 


(Preview photo credit: Christian Fischer, CC BY-SA 20, licence)