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History

The creation of the Laboratory of Ecophysiology and Cyanobacteria Toxicology (LECT) in 1987 was due to the admission of Prof. Sandra M. F. O. Azevedo as Professor of the Research Center of Natural Products (NPPN) of UFRJ. The lab then became a pioneer in the country in studies on cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins. Its first activities were the isolation of strains of cyanobacteria samples of phytoplankton populations of aquatic environments and the implementation of bioassays for acute toxicity evaluation in mice.

After her postdoctoral studies (1991) in the Department of Biological Sciences at Wright State University, Ohio - United States, Prof. Sandra Azevedo established a fruitful and lasting collaboration with Prof. Wayne W. Carmichael (one of the leading experts on the subject), which enabled the implementation in her lab of techniques for analyzing cyanotoxins by HPLC and subsequently ELISA-Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay. This allowed the advancement of knowledge on the production of cyanotoxins by different strains of Brazilian cyanobacteria and environmental and toxicological effects.

Part of these techniques have already been properly implemented in LETC when, in 1996, an incident occurred, which came to be known internationally as the "Tragedy of Caruaru". The whole team from LETC played a major role in elucidating the cause of poisoning and death of CDK (??) patients of Caruaru (130 poisonings and 60 deaths as of December 1996), which were exposed to cylindrospermopsin and microcystins present in water used for dialysis. This became the first confirmed case of human deaths caused by intoxication with cyanotoxins and some prizes were awarded to the group as a result of this work: 1996 - Acknowledgement of the Rector of UFRJ, for their participation in the elucidation of the cause of the poisoning of hemodialysis CDK patients of Caruaru (PE). 1996 - Merit awarded by the Minister of Health, in recognition to the work that resulted in the identification of cyanobacteria hepatotoxins as causative agents of the episode in Caruaru (PE). 1999 - Merit awarded by CRBio-2, in recognition of the services rendered to biology. Award-1999 "James H. Nakano Citation" (CDC-USA) for work published in N. Engl. J. Med 338:873-88.

The transfer of the laboratory for the Carlos Chagas Filho Institute of Biophysics - UFRJ, in late 1999, represented a new breakthrough for LETC due to the greater availability of physical space, which allowed a significant improvement of working conditions. Moreover, it was possible to establish new scientific partnerships that enabled the development of more elaborate studies in toxicology and physiological effects of some cyanotoxins in mammals and aquatic organisms.

Currently, research activities under development at LETC are: Occurrence of toxic cyanobacteria in Brazilian aquatic ecosystems; Influence of environmental factors on growth and toxin production by cyanobacteria; Isolation and maintenance of cyanobacterial strains in culture collections;

Extraction, purification and quantification of cyanotoxins by chromatographic, immunological and enzymatic methods;

Assessment of processes of bioaccumulation of cyanotoxins by aquatic biota and their consequences for the environment and public health;

Efficiency of water treatment processes in the removal of viable cells of cyanobacteria and their toxins;

Physiological  and toxicological effects of chronic exposure to cyanotoxins in fish and mammals;

"Omic" studies (genomic, proteomic and metagenomic) with cyanobacteria strains in order to identify environmental factors related to the synthesis of cyanotoxins and adaptive success of cyanobacteria;

Effects of light intensity and concentration of nutrients in the biomass and lipid production by microalgae.

As a result of this effort, over 60 scientific papers have been published in peer-reviewed journals along these 26 years. During this period, 13 theses and 18 dissertations have been presented, and 8 post-docs developed their research projects linked to LETC. Currently, 3 PhD , 2 graduate and 4 undergraduate students, plus 1 post-doc are linked to the laboratory.

Various cooperation programs were established to train students from other institutions, technicians from water treatment companies and environmental control and public health agencies, from Brazilian and Latin American. The coordinator of the laboratory participated in the editorial committee for drafting the first WHO "guideline" for toxic cyanobacteria in 1997/1998 (Toxic Cyanobactaria in Water: A Guide to Public Health Consequences, Monitoring and Management. Chorus & Bartram, edit., 1999) and it was part of the editorial committee of the second edition of the same "guidebook", which is in the final process of editing for publication.

The works done by this group contributed to the recognition of the problems related to the increase of toxic blooms of cyanobacteria in Brazilian public water supply sources, and also influenced the inclusion of monitoring of cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins in ordinance that treats the water for human consumption (Ordinances 518/MS March/2004 and 2914/MS December/2011)

This work has been formally recognized by UNESCO through the International Hydrology Programme (IHP) by the invitation and inclusion of the group in the International Steering Committee of the CYANONET network as a representative of the Latin America and the Caribbean.

In 2001, the group organized the First Latin American Seminar on Toxic Cyanobacteria and, in 2007, the VII International Conference on Toxic Cyanobacteria, which, by the first time, occurred in Latin America.

Since 2006 the coordinator of this lab is a member of the Scientific Committee of the International Lake Environment Committee Foundation (ILEC), based in Japan.