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Lehigh University logo

Evan Eckersley

An Engineered Polysaccharide Lyase to Combat Toxic Algal Blooms

Department: Bioengineering
Advisor: Bryan Berger

A growing global population and industrialization have come at a cost of induced climate change and pollution of natural resources. One major environmental concern that has recently emerged is the formation of toxic algal blooms in fresh water sources. These blooms have cut off drinking water to hundreds of thousands of Americans, destroyed recreational waters, and cost an estimated $1.5 billion dollars each year in the US alone. Current methods to combat such blooms are either expensive, ineffective, or harmful to the ecosystem. These shortcomings have opened the door for development of a biological algicide. Previous research by the Berger group has led to development of the mutant polysaccharide lyase (PL) enzyme H208F from the wild type Smlt2602 (WT). The mutant displays an increased activity on the polysaccharide polyglucuronic acid, which is a major component of the algal cell wall. The study focused on applying the two enzymes to an identified bloom-forming algae, M. aeruginosa. It was hypothesized that the PL’s would kill algae through disrupting the cell wall, while H208F would display a higher killing efficacy over the WT. A fluorescent plate assay in conjunction with a live/dead stain and fluorimetry were used to test degree of death in algae treated with each enzyme. Then, SEM analysis was used to observe cell wall morphology in order to verify the killing mechanism. Both the WT and H208F dispayed algicidal potential, increasing cell death by 98% and 131% respectively compared to the control, with H208F displaying a 34% greater algicidal efficacy than the WT. SEM images revealed deformities in the algal cell wall, confirming the purported mechanism.

About Evan Eckersley:
Evan Eckersley has found his interest at the intersection of engineering and business. Through Lehigh’s Integrated Business and Engineering honors program, he has developed skills in customer-centered product development and spent his capstone developing a strategy for the Lehigh Valley Health Network to implement the new Air Products Center for Connected Care and Innovation. His work in IBE also inspired his current startup company, Sówl, which won first place in the Baker Institute’s EUREKA! competition. Evan’s entrepreneurial focus also pervades his research at Lehigh. As a part of the Berger group, he has spent a year developing a novel solution to combat toxic algal blooms with a mutant polysaccharide lyase enzyme, having the ultimate goal of converting these dangerous blooms into fuel. As a hobby, Evan has spent time touring as the drummer of folk-rock band Steel City Sunrise and previously presided over Lehigh’s Music Box organization.