Special to EagleHerald/Becky Berry
Becky Berry, a recent UW-Green Bay graduate and Marinette native, with the cyanobacteria she has been studying for the last six semesters. Her research in cyanobacteria has been presented nationally.
Special to EagleHerald/Becky Berry

Becky Berry, a recent UW-Green Bay graduate and Marinette native, with the cyanobacteria she has been studying for the last six semesters. Her research in cyanobacteria has been presented nationally.

MARINETTE — A recent UW-Green Bay graduate from Marinette has been making strides in the scientific community.

Becky Berry, a Marinette native, graduated from UW-Green Bay with her bachelor’s degree in environmental science. Her primary area of study has been with cyanobacteria, commonly known as blue-green algae. According to Sue Bodilly, the director of content and media relations for UWGB, Berry’s research has been ongoing for the last six semesters, and has been presented nationally, notably at the 2017 International BMAA conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, which gets its name from a toxin found in all species of cyanobacteria linked to neurodegenerative diseases.

Much of her research over the course of her time in the UW system focused on hexavalent chromium and how it interacted with a specific species of cyanobacteria called spirulina. “Cyanobacteria can either metabolize metals, or they can just bind the metal to their surface. The metals are positively charged, and the mucilaginous sheath surrounding the bacteria is negatively charged, so that attraction is something industries and environmental bioremediation efforts can use. In our research, we are looking at whether this species of cyanobacteria is metabolizing or binding to the metals,” she said.

Researching with Sarah Klemp and professors Renee Richer and Mark Klemp, Berry said in their research they take two similar groups of cyanobacteria and heat it up to the point where they’re dead, and another one that stays untreated. She said a live group will metabolize and bind to the surface of the metal, whereas dead ones only bind. “We know it’s not being bound to the glassware or the bottles, so we’re looking at what mechanism is responsible for the removal of metals,” she said.

“Up to a certain point, both live and dead were similarly failing at removing the metals. At a certain point, they were both very active in their ability to remove it, but the live ones started to die off,” she said.

She said a further avenue of study given what she found would be to see if the point at which the bacteria begin to die off has to do with a certain level of toxicity. “Unfortunately we don’t have all the answers yet, but science is just filled with failures in how you reach success,” she said.

Berry said this research could be useful for people in industries that use chromium plating or other metals to reclaim their metals. She also said the research would be helpful for those in the medical field who may be treating someone exposed to cyanobacteria, giving them the knowledge to test for both neurotoxins and heavy metal toxicity. “It’s not just the neurotoxins; if the metals do bind to the bacteria, does that end up in the sediments and what happens if you dredge those chemicals; it’s a whole can of worms that we’re really looking forward to opening,” she said.

Originally, the research was specifically focused on spirulina and how it interacts with chromium, however she said the research broadened this year to include other species of cyanobacteria that are found in the area, as well as different metals.

Berry said she started off her college career at UW-Green Bay, Marinette Campus, and was inspired by Richer’s passion for researching cyanobacteria and wanted to do that as well.

She said she hopes to continue on to earn a master’s degree and Ph.D., however not right away. “I do plan to continue this research, even if it’s not for credits for a while,” she said, “but right now I’m going to work on getting married and establishing my career, but my fiance is fully supportive of the fact that there will always be a small room in the basement with a tank of cyanobacteria and a microscope. Even if I’m not getting credit for it, I’ll always have questions and nobody will answer them for me,” she said.