U. of Md. gets grants to study Pfiesteria Federal, state aid totals $2.4 million

October 06, 1998|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

University of Maryland scientists have been awarded more than $2.4 million in federal and state funds to study the causes of Pfiesteria outbreaks in Atlantic coastal waters, officials announced yesterday.

The federal grants from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are the first of a five-year research effort aimed at finding out how Pfiesteria and related dinoflagellates interact with their aquatic environment.

Two UM institutions have received more than $1.6 million in federal Pfiesteria research grants so far, and Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced the state will give $800,000 toward the study.

UM's Center for Environmental Science, which got $613,999 this year, will lead the multistate study from its laboratories at Horn Point and Solomons. Researchers from Delaware, North Carolina and South Carolina also are participating, but Maryland institutions have cornered most of the federal Pfiesteria research funds this year.

UM's Biotechnology Institute, which is based at Adelphi, received $997,020 to continue work on new molecular biological tools for identifying and possibly predicting Pfiesteria outbreaks, which can kill thousands of fish and cause human maladies.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore also has applied for a federal Pfiesteria research grant. That award is pending.

The study hopes to answer fundamental questions about how Pfiesteria and related toxic microorganisms interact with their environment, said Patricia M. Glibert, a biological oceanographer Horn Point and principal investigator on the project.

Scientists will focus on clarifying the role of nutrients in promoting the growth of Pfiesteria, Glibert said. That is key, because scientists are debating how -- or whether -- different kinds of nutrients help Pfiesteria thrive. The answer could affect a new Maryland law requiring farmers to curtail the amount of animal waste and chemical fertilizer they use.

Lawmakers adopted the new controls over objections from Maryland poultry farmers, who questioned the evidence linking nutrient-rich chicken manure with last year's fish kills in three Chesapeake waterways.

"We hope to make a dent in our understanding of the organism and of the factors that control it," Glibert said.

Pub Date: 10/06/98

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