Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Life Sciences

First Committee Member

Eduardo Robleto

Second Committee Member

Mark Buttner

Third Committee Member

Patricia Cruz

Fourth Committee Member

Kurt Regner

Fifth Committee Member

Christy Strong

Number of Pages



Lake Mead provides drinking water to millions of people in Nevada, California, and Arizona. In 2015, the Southern Nevada Water Authority detected the cyanobacteria-produced toxin microcystin in the lake for the very first time. This toxin is lethal in large doses, and in small doses it causes a myriad of serious health effects. Detecting microcystin directly is a time-consuming and expensive process that requires liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry or immunological analyses, which require a full day or more to process samples. In order to provide water managers with the methodology for a toxin monitoring plan, this work developed a rapid and inexpensive protocol using real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction for the detection of microcystin-production genes that takes about 75 minutes to perform by one person. Currently, water managers rely on microscopic identification for rapid detection of microcystin-producing cyanobacteria, so this novel protocol is significant as an early indicator for the presence of this toxin. The simulated algal blooms demonstrated that microcystin production by cyanobacteria is nutrient-dependent, providing insight into additional water quality monitoring tools. In addition, this work examined β-N-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA), a cyanobacteria-produced toxin associated with neurodegenerative disease. Although no BMAA was detected in Lake Mead, simulated algal blooms suggest that the potential for BMAA production in the lake is dependent on nutrient availability. The results of this study can be used to detect toxin-producing cyanobacteria as part of a routine water quality monitoring program.


Lake Mead; Drinking water; Southern Nevada Water Authority; Health effects



File Format


File Size

3.0 MB

Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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