CMU biology faculty and research team gaining international prominence for method to detect invasive species in the Great Lakes

Andrew Mahon
CMU biology professor Andrew R. Mahon and a group of research colleagues are using laser transmission spectroscopy to provide real-time, DNA-based testing to detect invasive species such as Asian carp and zebra mussels in freshwater.
 
This new easy-to-use, inexpensive technology paves the way for field-based identification of harmful species in samples from ships’ ballast water, ports and other at-risk areas before contamination and spreading into marine ecosystems, including the Great Lakes.
 
The findings of their recent study have been published in the “Journal of the Royal Society Interface,” a prestigious international, peer-reviewed scientific journal, featuring reviews and research articles showcasing the interface between the physical sciences, including mathematics and life sciences. Access the article here.
 
“Early detection of invasive species is critical in the effort to manage potential ecological and economic damage caused by harmful species entering fresh waterways,” said Mahon. “Laser transmission spectroscopy is a powerful tool for this, offering real-time, DNA-based species detection in the field.”
 
Economic damage caused by invasive species has been estimated at approximately $120 billion annually in the U.S. In the Great Lakes, more than 180 species have been introduced, mostly through the discharge of ship ballasts. Dreissenid mussels, also known as “zebra mussels” and “quagga mussels,” cause $150 million in damage annually by clogging water intake pipes in power plants, municipal water supplies and industrial facilities.
 
“Ships take on water in their home ports and transport that to other regions, taking native species with them to regions where they don’t normally exist,” said Mahon.
 
These introductions to freshwater and marine ecosystems have prompted a need for quick, inexpensive field-based technology to identify harmful species in water samples. The method Mahon and his team have created, using laser transmission spectroscopy, is user-friendly and easy to implement. Screening can be done on the ships in port.
 
“LTS is a quantitative detection platform for rapidly measuring the size, shape and number of nanoparticles in a water sample,” said Mahon.
 
The goal of this research, says Mahon, is to provide management agencies and policy makers the most accurate techniques and superior tools, matched with the best science available in order to prevent the invasion of harmful species into fresh waterways.
 
“If you catch species early in the process, you can alleviate the potential for invasion,” said Mahon. “LTS in an additional tool in the box and can be an effective surveillance method used to keep harmful species out of our lakes and waterways.”