Study uses fruit flies to show effects of toxic algae

Reporter: Veronica Marshall Writer: Drew Hill
Published: Updated:

Algal blooms have already begun popping up in Southwest Florida. New research is shedding light on how these algae toxins can impact your health.

In doing so, scientists exposed fruit flies to aerosolized forms of toxins. They found that one particular set of flies was impacted more than the rest.

Each of the flies were exposed to the toxins just once but were tested multiple times in order to get a picture of the effects of algae.

Keith Kaye is an Olga resident and he lives across the street from a canal.

“I don’t have enough time to tell you the things that are wrong with me that are directly attributed to things like this pollution,” Kaye said.

But, when it comes to blue-green algae exposure, it’s not just his own health that Kaye worries about.

“I have a grandson who visits here often. The people’s health, I mean, there’s kids here,” said Kaye.

A new study says that he is right in being worried. University of Miami researchers studied the impacts of aerosolized harmful algal blooms on fruit flies.

Kim Popendorf is an assistant professor of ocean sciences at the University of Miami. “Fruit flies are not an unreasonable model for some aspects of human health,” Popendorf said. “Their neurology is actually really similar.”

Popendorf worked on the project and says that after exposure to aerosolized blooms, flies of all ages died earlier than expected. The youngest flies saw the most significant impact on their health.

In addition to displaying long-term physical impacts, the youngest flies died even quicker than others and showed more brain degeneration.

“We would put them in this exposure chamber for about two hours. And this would have impacts throughout the rest of their lifespan for these fruit flies,” said Popendorf. “It’s certainly spurred questions where we should certainly be studying the long-term health impacts in people.”

“This affects everybody, the kids, the older folks, everybody, yourself,” Kaye said.

Popendorf’s team is conducting a study to determine the long-term impacts of blue-green algae on human health, and you can participate in it.

To do so, contact the study coordinator or leader by:

  • Study Coordinators: Addison Testoff & Mohamed Diop, Marcela Jaramillo, MS, PhD
  • Email:,,
  • Phone: 305-308-2477 and 305-243-7565
  • Study Leader: Dr. Alberto Caban-Martinez DO, PhD, MPH, CPH

“We’re recruiting anybody who lives near blue green algal blooms – so if you live near them, or if you go hang out near them, if you work near them. We’re also recruiting visitors,” Popendorf said. “The idea is that we get to track these people over time. So we can see before a bloom season, and then through a bloom season, how those different health markers are changing.”

“We look at pulmonary function – like blood pressure, oxygen levels. We collect blood samples, collect nasal swabs. We look at their microbiome,” said Popendorf. “We also have people sample that water that they’re living or working or swimming or fishing in and send it to us. And we sample their tap water as well and analyze for microcystin.””

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