Location: Bowdoin / Earth and Oceanographic Science / Research

Earth and Oceanographic Science

Cyanobacteria and Human Health: Merging Ecology, Epidemiology and Neurologic Disorders

Bowdoin College sponsored a three-day workshop, preceded by a one-day short course, focused on the linkages between marine and freshwater cyanobacterial blooms, toxicity, and human health impacts. The workshop brought together specialists in medicine, neurology, toxicology, epidemiology, ecology, oceanography and limnology from medical, academic, research, federal, state and tribal institutions to present and discuss the current state of understanding at the crossroads of these diverse fields as they relate to Cyanobacterial Blooms and Human Health. The objectives of this workshop were three-fold:

  • Provide a synthesis of current understanding within each field of the cyanobacteria and human health connections;
  • Generate synergistic collaborations between experts from diverse fields to develop strategies for epidemiological investigations within the context of environmental monitoring of compounds and organisms having potentially harmful consequences to human health;
  • Identify successes and future challenges for the merging fields, particularly within the context of environmental change and increasing global populations.

The objectives of the workshop were met: approximately 100 people from around the world convened at Bowdoin College in August 2011; plenary speakers and invited panelist presented views from medical, environmental and policy perspectives; participants unanimously appreciated the interdisciplinary and trans-organizational approach. While it would have been satisfying to have more conclusive findings on the range of topics, what the workshop did elucidate is the breadth and interconnectedness of this topic. It also made quite clear that the connection between cyanobacterial blooms and human health will be an increasingly important phenomenon in the future given the proven impacts of cyanobacterial toxins on human health, and the human and climate-change impacts on the environment and cyanobacterial blooms. There is clearly an intensification of use of natural aquatic systems, which are coming under increasing risk. Thus there is an urgency to this problem. The workshop also demonstrated specific gaps in our understanding and the need for focused interdisciplinary research. Our goals for future workshops should indeed focus on formulating white papers necessary to obtain vital funding.

Workshop Structure

The workshop consisted of invited plenary lectures in four topical sessions, short invited talks aimed to introduce topics for panel discussion, and contributed posters in all relevant areas. The Workshop Program presentations or abstracts can be found here.

Short Course

With the goal of education and cross-fertilization, a one-day short course was held Wednesday 3 August 2011 at Bowdoin College. The course was taught by four instructors, focused on the topics of the four plenary sessions. The lecturers provided upper level undergraduate, graduate and non-specialists with the background and vocabulary necessary to participate more proactively in the workshop.  Video capture of the short courses, or presentation slides can be found on the workshop program page. 


A large bloom of cyanobacteria of the genus Lyngbya in Guatemala’s Lake Atitlán. Simulated-natural-color image from November 22, 2009 acquired by the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA’s Terra. For more information: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/NaturalHazards/view.php?id=41385



CyanobacteriumFilamentous cyanobacterium Lyngbya, forms mucilaginous floating mats in both fresh and marine waters. Image courtesy of cyanosite:http://www-cyanosite.bio.purdue.edu/images/images.html