Exposure to Aerosolized Algal Toxins in South Florida Increases Short- and Long-Term Health Risk in Drosophila Model of Aging

Jiaming Hu, Jiaqi Liu, Yi Zhu, Zoraida Diaz-Perez, Michael Sheridan, Haley Royer, Raymond Leibensperger, Daniela Maizel, Larry Brand, Kimberly J. Popendorf, Cassandra J. Gaston, R. Grace Zhai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Harmful algal blooms (HABs) are a rising health and environmental concern in the United States, particularly in South Florida. Skin contact and the ingestion of contaminated water or fish and other seafood have been proven to have severe toxicity to humans in some cases. However, the impact of aerosolized HAB toxins is poorly understood. In particular, knowledge regarding either the immediate or long-term effects of exposure to aerosolized cyanotoxins produced by freshwater blue-green algae does not exist. The aim of this study was to probe the toxicity of aerosolized cyanobacterial blooms using Drosophila melanogaster as an animal model. The exposure of aerosolized HABs at an early age leads to the most severe long-term impact on health and longevity among all age groups. Young groups and old males showed a strong acute response to HAB exposure. In addition, brain morphological analysis using fluorescence imaging reveals significant indications of brain degeneration in females exposed to aerosolized HABs in early or late stages. These results indicate that one-time exposure to aerosolized HAB particles causes a significant health risk, both immediately and in the long-term. Interestingly, age at the time of exposure plays an important role in the specific nature of the impact of aerosol HABs. As BMAA and microcystin have been found to be the significant toxins in cyanobacteria, the concentration of both toxins in the water and aerosols was examined. BMAA and microcystin are consistently detected in HAB waters, although their concentrations do not always correlate with the severity of the health impact, suggesting the potential contribution from additional toxins present in the aerosolized HAB. This study demonstrates, for the first time, the health risk of exposure to aerosolized HAB, and further highlights the critical need and importance of understanding the toxicity of aerosolized cyanobacteria HAB particles and determining the immediate and long-term health impacts of HAB exposure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 11 2020


  • South Florida
  • aerosol toxins
  • blue-green algae
  • cyanobacteria
  • fresh water algal blooms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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