Bacterial control of zebra mussels, low power radio

June 10, 2002

Sea Grant Research News:
Bacterial Toxin May Control Zebra Mussel
Zebra Mussels Spreading, But More Can Be Done To Slow Them
Low Power Radio Reaches Out To Tourists And More

In a recently completed New York Sea Grant-funded investigation, evidence has shown that a common soil bacterium, Pseudomonas fluorescens, produces a toxin that kills the non-native mussels.

Zebra mussels first were identified in June 1988 in Lake St. Clair, having most likely arrived in the ballast water of ships from Europe. The Sea Grant National Aquatic Nuisance Species Clearinghouse estimates approximately $1 billion in damages in North America related to the spread of the non-indigenous aquatic mussel, which can cause major problems at water dependent infrastructure including electric power generation stations, water treatment plants, in irrigation systems, and other industrial and recreational facilities.

Since 1991, researcher Daniel Molloy has led a Sea Grant-supported effort to identify predators, parasites, and infectious microbes that can kill zebra mussels. In small trials, Molloy says the bacterium has eliminated the mussels in pipes at a hydropower facility with a 95 percent kill. The bacterium destroys a digestive gland within the mussel, leading to their death. Because even dead Pseudomonas cells kill zebra mussels, Molloy suspects that the bacterium contains a toxin within its cell walls.

He and his colleagues have conducted preliminary tests indicating that the microbe does not harm untargeted species, including fish and native mussels. They are now working to identify and purify the toxin. And then? Molloy says the big challenge will be to find a way to produce enough of the bacterium or its toxin commercially. "This research is the next logical step in the path toward commercialization of the bacterium as an innovative, ecologically-safe, and effective zebra mussel control agent."
CONTACTS: Daniel P. Molloy, New York Sea Grant Researcher, New York State Museum Field Research Laboratory, (O) 518-677-8245; Email:
Charles R. O'Neill, Director, Sea Grant National Aquatic Nuisance Species Clearinghouse; (O)585-395-2638; Email:;

Zebra mussels have muscled their way into more than half the counties in Michigan, with at least 166 inland lakes infested. But these invaders are not just a problem in Michigan. Twenty-two states are infested with this fast-spreading aquatic nuisance species, and the number is likely to grow.

Adult zebra mussels and veligers (larvae) are easily transported from one body of water to another via boats, trailers and fishing equipment. They can attach to any surface that is not toxic, including rock, metal and other mussels. Once established, zebra mussels can damage boat motors, clog intakes of water systems, and filter out lake nutrients that feed other organisms. In doing so, they've driven out native mussels, altering the ecology of freshwater lakes and streams.

Recreational boaters play an important part in keeping bodies of water free from zebra mussels and other aquatic nuisance species. To help stop more lakes from being infested, follow the tips listed on Michigan Sea Grant's zebra mussel avoidance sticker:
  • Remove any visible mud, plants, fish or animals before transporting equipment.
  • Drain water from equipment (boat, motor, trailer, live wells) before transporting.
  • Clean and dry anything that comes into contact with water (equipment, clothing, children, dogs).
  • Never release plants, fish or animals into a body of water unless it came out of that same body of water.

    Another way to get involved in the fight against zebra mussels is to join the Zebra Mussel Brick Watch, organized by the Michigan Lake & Stream Association with help from Sea Grant. Brick watch participants attach a brick to a piece of rope, suspend it one foot from the bottom of a lake and check for zebra mussel growth in late summer. The project is an important method for keeping track of zebra mussel spread. For more information on zebra mussel research and prevention projects, visit:

    CONTACT: For information on zebra mussels and prevention techniques, contact Mike Klepinger, Michigan Sea Grant Extension Specialist, (O) 517-353-5508,
    For zebra mussel prevention stickers, or to participate in the Brick Watch program, contact Pearl Bonnell, Michigan Lake & Stream Association, (O) 989-257-3583, Email:

    As you travel across the country this summer, listen for radio messages from Sea Grant. Several Sea Grant programs use low power radio as an effective communications tool for the recreation and tourism industry. Low power radio is a low-wattage, AM radio station that broadcasts short, pre-programmed messages over a limited area so visitors can tune in from their cars or boats and hear about a particular locale, attraction, or facility.

    Sea Grant Extension specialists have helped state agencies, chambers of commerce and others test and develop low power radio programming across the country:
  • In Massachusetts, Woods Hole Sea Grant's low power radio program is aimed at travelers awaiting a ferry trip to Martha's Vineyard. They learn about the village of Woods Hole, its marine scientific research institutions, the ferry itself and the ride across Vineyard Sound.
  • New Hampshire Sea Grant established the Great Bay Area Radio to tell residents and visitors about the Great Bay Estuary, including pollution reduction techniques and wildlife information.
  • Oregon uses low power radio throughout the state. Its Coast Talk radio informs passersby about the history, economics and sights of a working fishing port in the Port of Newport. At Seal Rock, people are taught about fragile tide pool ecosystems and how to keep from damaging them, while at Boiler Bay State Park, visitors can tune in and get tips on how to spot migrating whales, information about the park's natural history and weather updates.

    Low power radio requires only four components: an audio recorder to capture and repeatedly play back voice messages, an antenna, an AM radio transmitter, and roadway signs alerting potential listeners to the broadcast. As a result, it is an inexpensive and easy to use method of communication. Oregon Sea Grant has produced a video that showcases low power radio use at Sea Grant programs around the country and a booklet with guidelines on how to set up your own station. For ordering information visit:

    PRINCIPAL CONTACT: Joe Cone, Assistant Director for Communications, Oregon Sea Grant, (O) 541-737-0756, (F) 541-737-7958, Email:

    Oregon project website:

    FOR STATE RADIO PROGRAMS, CONTACT: Tracey Crago, Communicator, WHOI Sea Grant, (O) 508-289-2665, Email:,
    WHOI project website:
    Kathleen Schmitt, Science Writer, New Hampshire Sea Grant, (O) 603-749-1565,

    SEA GRANT CALENDAR SPOTLIGHT- National Fisheries Law Symposium, June 28, 2002
    Roger Williams University Law School, Bristol, Rhode Island. Topics to be covered include the law and economics of fisheries regulations, fisheries regulations in Rhode Island, clarifying marine aquaculture legal rights, search and seizure of fishing vessels, and more. The symposium is sponsored by Roger Williams University Ralph R. Papitto School of Law, the National Sea Grant College Program, The National Sea Grant Law Center, National Sea Grant Fisheries Theme Team, and state Sea Grant programs of Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Woods Hole (Massachusetts). For more information, contact via email:

    Maryland Sea Grant Marine Education Interactive Lessons About Chesapeake Bay Learn about the nation's largest and most productive estuary, the Chesapeake Bay, on Maryland Sea Grant's interactive education website. The site guides students and teachers through activities and allows them to create their own dichotomous key, identify organisms, examine biofilm communities and measure biodiversity in the bay. Laboratory activities on the Eastern oyster are also offered, allowing students to learn first-hand about the biology, anatomy and habitat of this important member of the bay's ecology. Visit the site for web videos, teacher instructions, and links to more information.
    Sea Grant is a nationwide network of 30 university-based programs that works with coastal communities. Sea Grant research and outreach programs promote better understanding, conservation, and use of America's coastal resources. For more information about Sea Grant visit the Sea Grant Media Center Website at: -- which includes on-line keyword searchable database of academic experts in over 30 topical areas. Sea Grant is administered nationally by NOAA.

    National Sea Grant College Program

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