Its Do or Die for Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center

Three years ago the Legislature supplied the initial funding to start the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center at the University of Minnesota, (MAISRC). MAISRC will be the most complete facility of its kind in the Midwest, and research is central to Minnesota’s ability to not only prevent the further spread of aquatic invasive species already in Minnesota, but the future introduction of new species.  Research, combined with on the ground programs of inspection, decontamination, early detection and rapid response are the only way to protect Minnesota’s waters and water based economy.

The University of Minnesota has included funding for renovations of the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center as part of its $12 million Capital Request for the Laboratory Improvement Fund ($8 million state investment is needed to match $4 million in University funding). If the request is met, $6 million would be used to update the MAISRC’s Central Research and Holding Facility, which is currently housed in a tractor garage built in 1911 and must be updated to become functional. For instance, the flow of water through MAISRC is only 8 gallons per minute, far too low to provide the lab.  In addition MAISRC has insufficient effluent screening or filtration and so cannot safely study zebra mussels, invasive plants, diseases and mature Asian carp.

Jeff Forester, Executive Director of Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates and member of the Statewide AIS Advisory Committee said, “Ongoing research is key to our future success. The blogosphere and many newspapers have recently declared the war on zebra mussels to be won, but sadly those reports are grossly premature.”

Recently the New York Times published a story called “Science Takes on Silent Invader.” The article outlines the work of Dr. Dan Malloy with Pseudomonas fluorescens, a naturally occurring bacterium that kills zebra mussels. The bacterium is being marketed under the name Zequanox.

The public is justifiably excited about this discovery. Zebra mussels can threaten fisheries, lake ecology, and Minnesota’s $4 billion annual recreation-based economy,  Mille Lacs being the most recent and painful example.  Aquatic Invasive Species can lower property tax base and destroy public infrastructure like dams and water intake pipes at drinking water and hydroelectric facilities.

Said Forester, “Yes, zequanox can kill zebra mussels without harming other life, but it has an insurmountable obstacle of scale. There is simply no viable open water application.”

Zequanox will kill ZMs in a pipe or tank with better than 90% effectiveness, and does not harm other creatures.  But Zequanox is not a live bacterium, and so must be reapplied, which is cost prohibitive. If an inexpensive method of synthesizing Zequanox were to be developed, it would be impossible to get concentrations high enough to treat even a small open water lake. In addition, Zequanox must be at the required concentration for a period of hours, another impossibility in a natural lake.

Due to these limitations, Dr. Malloy proposed a research program for the MAISRC based on his earlier work with Pseudomonas fluorescens, with an emphasis on trying to find a live organism that was self-replicating, could get federal approval, and would not harm any other aquatic life in the system. Dr. Malloy recognized that this work was like looking for a “needle in a haystack” and would probably take decades before a solution was found, if it was found.  Ultimately the selection committee at MAISRC could only fund one zebra mussel project, and took a different approach.

Dr. Peter Sorenson, the Chair of MAISRC, recognizes that finding a “silver bullet” will be extremely difficult, yet he remains hopeful that Minnesota can and will protect its public waters for current and future aquatic invaders. The goal of ongoing research is to expand science based tools, policies, laws, and best management practices to continually bring down the risk of transmission of aquatic invasive species across Minnesota. Without funding for a functional lab, this promising research will be over before it has even begun.


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