A local is using biological research in an effort to help bring a solution to the algae problem in Grand Lake St. Marys.
Andrew Durkee, a St. Marys native beginning his junior year in college, is conducting research at Bowling Green State University on diatom stimulation in hopes to find a way to fix the lake.
“Right now the lake is full of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae), which has a toxin that causes nerve damage,” Durkee said. “What we’re working on doing is working to stimulate diatoms. Diatoms are a neutral organism — they don’t help the lake but they don’t hurt the lake. We’ve been stimulating them through various nutrient levels by adding different nutrient spikes to different lake water samples in hopes to promote diatom growth.”
Durkee said he is hoping that the diatoms can be manipulated to suffocate the bacteria plaguing Grand Lake St. Marys.
“The theory is that if you stimulate diatom growth through a diatom bloom, we would be able to design the diatoms to absorb the phosphorus and basically suffocate the sign of bacteria,” he said.
During the 2010-11 school year, Durkee was able to develop a method to test the diatoms in a sample.
“In the fall and spring, I perfected a method for actually testing for diatoms,” Durkee said. “There’s so much cyanobacteria, you can’t just look under a microscope and count them. We had to derive an actual way to do it. A large portion of last year we spent working on that, so we were able to successfully devise a method for testing for diatoms.”
This summer, Durkee has been working on stimulating diatom growth.
“We added the different nutrient levels and tried to stimulate diatom growth, but we were unsuccessful this summer in stimulating it,” he said. “We’re going to try again in the fall and see if we’ll have better results then.”
Durkee noted the most difficult part of the process has been the unsuccessful results.
“What we’re doing really isn’t working right now, and I guess that’s really difficult to deal with because I want to be able to fix it (the lake),” Durkee said. “I want to be able to solve the problem, but what we’re doing right now isn’t really the best — it’s not really that productive yet. So, it’s challenging when we run our statistics and they come up negative. It’s tough to deal with.”
Durkee became involved in the research after taking a biology course last fall. His professor, George Bullerjohn, told the class about his research on diatoms and Grand Lake St. Marys.
“After class I approached him and asked if he would like a research assistant or someone to go down to the lake and collect samples for him and he said yes,” Durkee said. “My research progressed from there, getting various other research grants.”
Durkee has been working on the research since, in addition to his course load. Durkee also obtained research grants to fund his work, one of which allowed him to spend the summer in Bowling Green.
“It was actually my summer job this summer,” he said. “I received a large research grant that paid me to live in Bowling Green and funded my research.”
Durkee recently presented his research at the 2011 National Conference on Undergraduate Research at Ithaca College.
“In the spring, I attended a national conference,” he said. “My research was nationally recognized, and I’m getting one of my papers published this fall.”
The pre-med major is hoping his research will benefit Grand Lake St. Marys during his next two years at Bowling Green State University.
“I’m hoping there will be an adequate solution within the next two years,” Durkee said.
“If that doesn’t work out, I’d like to have some promising research or graduate with some hope that I’ll be able to fix the lake.”
Durkee noted that he has received guidance from the faculty at Bowling Green.
“Bowling Green’s Biology Department is really research-oriented,” he said. “I have two advisers and they both offer me help — they both proofread my papers, they always proofread my applications, they encourage me. They propose my project ideas, so I’ve just been going off that, and I’ve been working with them. So, I’ve received a lot of guidance.”
In his future, Durkee is hoping to attend medical school en route to becoming a surgeon or medical researcher, with an emphasis on stem-cell research. He noted that his experience with the research he has done will be beneficial to his future career aspirations.
“It’s really good experience,” he said.
“You learn to understand the research mindset — to learn how to think holistically, or think about the entire problem. That’s something you don’t get in the classroom.”
By Beth Lipton, The Evening Leader