Primary Investigator: James Cotner
Co-Investigators: Brianna Loeks-Johnson (Graduate Scholar); Ben Fry (Undergraduate Scholar)
Industry Partners: Minnesota Department of Agriculture
Award Type: Seed Grant – Graduate Research Scholar & Undergraduate Research Scholar

Problem: Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide on our planet. It’s extensive use in the Midwest, including Minnesota, has been extremely beneficial to agricultural production. However, this organophosphate continues to accumulate in soil and water, and is not easily degraded by microbes. Some recent publications have, however, suggested that bacteria like cyanobacteria or blue-green algae are more capable of using partially degraded glyphosate than other algae. This suggests that glyphosate may be contributing to the increased presence of blue-green algae in Minnesota water bodies and ecosystems, where glyphosate is used. The problem requires further investigation into how it might be influencing Minnesota lakes and rivers and the associated soils.

Solution: The Cotner Team will first examine the ability of harmful algal bloom (HAB) species of cyanobacteria to consume glyphosate. The cyanobacteria will also be analyzed for genes known to be involved in the consumption of glyphosate. MnDRIVE researchers will then screen a library of freshwater bacterial strains in the Cotner Lab for their ability to degrade glyphosate and other phosphonates under varying environmental conditions. Bacteria that are capable of degrading glyphosate and phosphonate will then be characterized for potential bioremediation use. 

Impact: Identifying microbes capable of degrading glyphosate from areas of high glyphosate use will lead to a new understanding of bacterial species that may be contributing to harmful algal blooms (HABs) throughout Minnesota. Characterizing microbes from the Cotner bacterial library capable of glyphosate degradation will also demonstrate potential for future bioremediation technologies.

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