Dan Molloy is a research scientist with the State University of New York at Albany. In previous work with the New York State Museum, he developed the biological agent Zequanox, which kills zebra mussels in confined areas, such as power-plant water intake pipes.
The non-native mussels are believed to have arrived in North America in ship ballast water. They filter up to a liter of water daily, competing with native fish for plankton.
This summer, the federal government approved Zequanox for lake applications, and Molloy is in Minnesota this week helping to oversee its use in Christmas Lake in the west metro. Juvenile zebra mussels were discovered recently in Christmas Lake near the public boat access.
That area has since been sealed off from lake bottom to surface using heavy plastic, and Zequanox, in powdered form mixed with lake water, will be distributed in the containment zone.
Molloy was flown to Minnesota by the Christmas Lake Homeowners Association, in part to assess whether the lake’s zebra mussel infestation has spread beyond the access area. Molloy found no evidence of additional mussels in an inspection Sunday.
In the following interview, Molloy discusses possible uses of Zequanox (which has since been licensed to a California company) in the fight against zebra mussels, and other strategies intended to stop, or slow, their spread.
Q What is your primary area of expertise?
A The biological control of zebra mussels. Most of my publications are on natural diseases that kill zebra mussels.
Q Are there such diseases?
A Yes. And I and others are trying to figure out how to use them for biological control. So far, the fight against zebra mussels has been concentrated on slowing their spread. This gives people like me time to find answers. This isn’t something that will happen in a year or two or three, but over decades.
Q How long did it take to develop Zequanox?
A About 20 years. But I have been studying the biological control of aquatic pests for much longer, about four decades. Years ago, I had a major success as part of an international team developing a bacterium that is still used by your Metropolitan Mosquito Control District, among others, to control black flies and mosquitoes. It’s effective, and incredibly safe. After that, the Department of Environmental Conservation in New York came to me with the zebra mussel problem. That was in 1990, and in 2010 my employer, the New York State Museum, licensed it as Zequanox.
Q But its primary use has been in pipes, correct?
A Yes. Now the question is whether it will succeed in open water. But keep in mind: We’re talking limited areas of lakes, not entire lakes. And even in this application there are unknowns. To my knowledge, the Christmas Lake application will be the first that attempts to solve a problem in open water.