Marinette Campus professor researches possible link between environmental exposure to algae and Alzheimer’s

You wouldn’t think that a professor whose work mainly focuses on dry, arid landscapes would have much relevance to life near the Great Lakes.

But, UW-Green Bay Prof. Renee Richer’s research may help change the way the world looks at Alzheimer’s and ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, by changing the way we look at… algae.

Renee Richer Photo-01
Renee Richer

Her work is part of a larger study being led by Paul Cox, a Harvard ethnobotanist, that looks at the possibility that diseases like Alzheimer’s and ALS may be treated through the use of dietary amino acids, rather than pharmaceuticals. Their research looks at island villages where Alzheimer’s and ALS are frequent versus villages where the diseases are relatively unknown. The work was profiled as a cover story for the January 2019 edition of Fortune Magazine that looked at the billions spent by big pharma as compared to the more modest approach by Wyoming’s Brain Chemistry Lab, of which Cox and Richer are a part.

Now a professor of ecology at UW-Green Bay’s Marinette Campus, Richer’s research studies how humans are exposed to cyanobacteria and their toxins and its research she got a start on while working toward her Ph.D. from Harvard in the area of environmental science and plant ecology. The research led her to work on cyanobacteria — (formerly called blue green algae) — bacteria that uses photosynthesis to convert sunlight to carbohydrates. Particularly focusing the research on arid environments in southern Africa and the Middle East, Richer has worked extensively to look at the toxins these bacteria produce and how they affect humans.

“Cyanobacteria produces some of the most deadly toxins known to man,” she said. “It turns out that one of the toxins is a neurotoxin called BMAA –Beta-N-Methylamino-L-Alanine… in the last 15-20 years or so there has been a resurgence in interest in this toxin and how it is linked to ALS, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.”

Richer’s work helped to map cyanobacteria in Qatar so that researchers could better understand the relationship between cyanobacteria, BMAA and neurodegenerative diseases.

“With the help of students, we were able to map the surface of the country,” she said of her work in Qatar. “Qatar is a relatively small country, about 11,000 square kilometers. We did a survey over the country and were able to map the coverage of the cyanobacteria and note where there might be greater exposure. Some areas… we were not able to survey, but we were able to sample more than 9,000 square kilometers of the country.”

Her work is as extraordinary in its accomplishment as it is in what it could mean for the average Wisconsin resident.

“Dr. Richer’s research has exposed air as a medium for human exposure to the neurotoxin,” said Cox. “She may be the only person in the world to map the cyanobacterial distribution of an entire country.”

But how does that research impact lives in Wisconsin and the Great Lakes?

“The organisms in the algae blooms we have in this area are the same as the ones in Qatar,” she said. “When we see harmful algae blooms in Wisconsin, those blooms produce the same cyanotoxins, the same BMAA, as we’ve been discussing in regards to ALS and Alzheimer’s.”

And future research into those same cyanotoxins may lead to information on how to stop the neurodegenerative aspects of Alzheimer’s and ALS.

“Paul Cox’s study was the first to develop an animal model where they exposed the primates to BMAA and saw the key hallmarks of neurodegeneration in the brain,” she said. “This was the first non-genetic model that can link an environmental exposure to Alzheimer’s and ALS.”

The study also seems to point to a cure for the diseases.

“During that same primate study, some primates were jointly exposed to L-serine, which protected them from the effects of BMAA,” she said.

Research from Cox’s 50-scientist consortium has focused on the possibility that the amino acid L-serine could slow the effects of BMAA in creating Alzheimer’s and ALS, as well as other progressive neurodegenerative diseases, by slowing protein misfolding, where protein cells do not fold correctly and are not corrected by protein quality control systems. Scientists feel that an accumulation of protein misfolding may be a factor in age-related neurodegenerative diseases.

The link between L-serine and these neurodegenerative diseases is now in the FDA-approved Phase II clinical trials at Dartmouth.

“The jury is still out,” Cox said, “but we will know a lot more in the year ahead.”

Cox’s study, released in January, is a baseline for study’s yet to come. Richer’s mapping of cyanobacteria in Qatar is part of that study and serves as a foundation for other research yet to come, she said.

“The pharmaceutical industry has not been successful in creating a cure,” she said. “For decades, there has been virtually nothing in the way of treatment. This research is looking into the cause of the diseases which allows us to look into prevention and also allows us to research potential treatments. Once we find a pathway to origination, we can find routes to prevent or cure the diseases.”

There are things Wisconsinites can take away from her research, however. Anyone living on a lake can use the information the research has discovered to lower their chances of developing a neurodegenerative disease.

“There is a lot or work being done on the East coast and in Europe that links people who live near lakes with cyanobacterial clusters, or blooms, with ALS,” she said. “If people are eating shellfish from waterbodies that had cyanobacterial blooms, they have a higher chance of developing ALS. People need to be thinking about the water quality in their area and the increasing occurrence of these blooms. It would be wise to stay away from participating in water sports in lakes where these blooms are occurring. This is an opportunity for those living around the lakes to protect ourselves by maintaining a higher quality of water.”

Richer and company will continue to investigate cyanobacteria and how it migrates in sediment and may contaminate ground water, and how cyanobacteria accumulates heavy metals and whether or not that impacts one’s exposure to multiple neurotoxins. UW-Green Bay undergraduates (former Marinette Campus students) Sarah Klemp and Becky Berry (Environmental Science) are working closely with Richer and Marinette Campus Associate Professor Mark Klemp, as well as Green Bay Campus professors Patricia Terry and Michael Zorn on this particular research. See more on this work.

Story by freelance writer Liz Carey. Photos submitted by Rene Richer.

Green Bay and Marinette campuses team up to study Chromium-6 in drinking water

Chromium-6 (Cr VI) is an odorless and tasteless metallic element. In industry, it is used as an additive, endowing alloys to improve strength, hardness, temperature resistance and preventing corrosion, for instance.

But it is also a contaminant that is toxic, carcinogenic and mutagenic. It’s safe to say that one would prefer to avoid Chromium-6 in drinking water.

Chromium Testing-2
Professors Mark Klemp and Patricia Terry

Student and faculty researchers at UW-Green Bay’s Marinette and Green Bay campuses, have teamed up to take a closer look at how cyanobacteria (often called blue-green algae) might be able to biologically filter the toxic element out of water. This could lead to both safer drinking water and could one day inform companies in various industries how to recycle and reuse the element.

What started as a grant proposal for former Marinette Campus student Sarah Klemp (now enrolled in the Chemistry at Green Bay), has become a full-fledged research opportunity for Klemp and fellow UW-Green Bay student researcher Becky Berry (Environmental Science). Working closely with the students are Marinette Campus Associate Professor Mark Klemp (Sarah’s father) and Green Bay Campus Professors Patricia Terry and Michael Zorn.

The project will compare removal of Cr(VI) from water using live and dead algae to determine if the removal is purely surface absorption or if there is a metabolic component.

“Our research is testing cyanobacteria’s bioremediation capacity of hexavalent chromium and the mechanisms responsible,” explained Klemp and Berry. “To do this, we expose both living and dead bacteria to various known concentrations of chromium solutions. After the exposure, we filter out the bacteria and test the new concentrations of the chromium solutions. The difference in concentration shows how much chromium the bacteria removes, if any.”

“By virtue of receiving the grant (officially a UW System Water Research Advisory Council Undergraduate Research Fellowship from the UW System Water Research Collaborative), the students will be presenting their research among their UW colleagues at the Research in the Rotunda event in April of 2019,” said Terry. “In addition, we believe their research paper will has the potential to be published, which bodes well for their college portfolios and future opportunities. Plus, it could have future implications in industry settings.”

Prof. Klemp says the collaboration between the faculty, students and two campuses has gone smoothly.

“This collaboration was not only exciting by having the opportunity to work with faculty from different disciplines, but the ability to work with colleagues from different campuses was a great way to integrate our new institution.”

Renee Richer Photo-01
Renee Richer

Assistant Prof. Renee Richer, who was on sabbatical last semester, mentored the students last year.

Klemp and Berry explain where the idea for the research began. “Living in northeastern Wisconsin has revealed many issues of pollution particular to our area. We decided to focus on the two primary concerns: heavy metal pollutants and agricultural runoff. Luckily, our biology professor, Dr. Richer, has an extensive background knowledge of cyanobacteria (blue-green “algae”) and was a major pioneer of the project. With an environmental scientist and chemist on the team, we decided bioremediation (the use of living organisms to consume or break down pollutants) would not only be relevant but serve our community. After attempting the project in Marinette with professors Richer and Klemp, we realized more resources were necessary to continue.”

Chromium Testing-3Reaching out to UW-Green Bay’s professors Terry and Zorn, helped them see this issue from a different perspective and provided the students with additional opportunities and resources. “Dr. Terry’s previous work with cyanobacteria and heavy metals allowed us to utilize her successful techniques. Prof. Zorn helped us tremendously with the operation of lab equipment that could better analyze our samples.”

The undergraduates are excited about their project which has provided a school-of-hard-knocks from time to time as they saw some setbacks.

“The project is going very well now because of all the advising we receive from the professors involved,” they said. “There were even a couple moments when we thought, ‘This is it! We actually see good results!’ only to find that we did not actually see meaningful data, instead we made a mistake and had to start over. We follow our own procedure, so every failure we encounter is new and difficult to anticipate but so obvious in hindsight. That is the hardest part… trying so hard with so many different techniques and improvements but still without success. The smallest breakthroughs provide enough momentum to keep us motivated.”

Their hypothesis is that living cyanobacteria will remove more chromium from the solution than dead cyanobacteria due to its ability to adsorb and metabolize, as compared to the dead which will only be able to remove through adsorption.

“We believe this is a possibility and run tests that will either support our reject our hypothesis. Either way, we conduct ourselves and the project without bias and accept the results.”

The transition between the Marinette and Green Bay campus comes with both benefits and challenges, they say.

“Green Bay has opened the door to so many more opportunities, resources, and intelligent people willing to aid us in the process. We do work at both campuses since half of the team is from Marinette and the other half is from Green Bay, so the hardest part is traveling between here and the Marinette campus.”




Weidner Center Executive Director Kelli Strickland shares her excitement for ‘Lombardi’

“Lombardi” will be performed at the Weidner Center from Friday, Feb. 22, 2019 through Sunday, Mar. 10, 2019. Weidner Center Executive and Artistic Director, Kelli Strickland, shares her enthusiasm for “this arts and culture contribution to the Green Bay Packers 100th Anniversary.”

Buy tickets and learn more

6:30 Concert Series continues March 12, 2019 with ‘Megan Ihnen & Alan Theisen present…with Michael Hall’

The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay’s 6:30 Concert Series continues its season with “Megan Ihnen & Alan Theisen present…with Michael Hall” on Tuesday, March 12, 2019 at 6:30 pm in the Weidner Center’s Fort Howard Hall. The concert is free and open to the public. Pre-concert cocktails will be available at the cash bar in Studio One, next door to Fort Howard Hall.

Megan Ihnen and Alan Theisen combine a fearless collaborative exploration of their possibilities as artists with a thoughtful curatorial sense to create intimate and memorable audience experiences. Under the banner “Megan Ihnen & Alan Theisen present…” their voice/saxophone programs have been praised as “a fresh look at what it means to be artists in the 21st century.” Both members of the duo bring a wide array of artistic experiences to their partnership — Ihnen is a mezzo-soprano force of nature (equally comfortable singing Brahms, musical theater, or George Crumb) and Theisen is an active composer of concert music and jazz in addition to his performance career.

Ihnen and Theisen will be joined by internationally acclaimed violist Michael Hall. Hall lives in Chicago and has performed and taught across Europe, Asia and the United States. New Music Connoisseur has called his playing “utterly masterful,” and Chamber Music Today has lauded his “superb technique.” A passionate advocate for new music, Hall recently gave the world premiere world premiere of Stacy Garrop’s Viola Concerto Krakatoa with the Bandung Philharmonic in Indonesia — an orchestra he cofounded and serves as Co-Artistic Director, and as Director of Educational Programs.

Ihnen, Theisen, and Hall will perform as soloists and duet partners before finishing the program as trio. Highlights of the program will include John Cage’s iconic Aria for solo voice; Alan Theisen’s Lamassu, a dramatic duo for saxophone and viola inspired by Assyrian mythology; and the world premiere of Lorem Ipsum, written by UW-Green Bay Professor of Music Michelle McQuade Dewhirst.

Photo: Left to right, Michael Hall, Megan Ihnen and Alan Theisen.

For more information about the artists please visit:

About the 6:30 Concert Series
All performances:

  • Take place in the Weidner Center’s Fort Howard Hall or Cofrin Family Hall
  • Begin at 6:30 PM
  • Last between 60 and 90 minutes
  • Are free and open to the public; donations are gladly accepted.

The 6:30 Concert series is funded in part by a grant from the Green Bay Public Arts Commission. To learn more about the series and upcoming performances, please visit

About Fort Howard Hall
Perhaps the most versatile space in the Weidner Center, the 45’ x 54’ Fort Howard Hall features a beautiful hardwood floor and retractable seating. The privacy of the space and the hardwood floor make this a perfect location for dinners, receptions, meetings and social dancing. The retractable seating allows the hall to be transformed into a small performance space ideal for recitals and lectures.

About the Weidner Center
UW-Green Bay’s Weidner Center for the Performing Arts is known for its elegant design and the acoustic excellence of its 2,000-seat main hall, Cofrin Family Hall. It also houses two smaller performance spaces, the Fort Howard recital hall and the Jean Weidner Theatre, along with a dance studio and Grand Foyer. The Center is a home for UW-Green Bay Music and Theatre and Dance productions, community events and productions, and performances by visiting artists and touring companies. The Weidner Center has a distinct benefit in being part of a leading institution of higher learning. Beyond the large-scale touring productions that grace the stage, the Weidner Center also focuses on scholastic development, programming and an impactful education series – Stage Doors. The Stage Doors Education Series serves more than17,500 students from 63 cities throughout Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula every year. For more information on the Weidner Center, visit, 920-465-2726, 800-895-0071, or follow the ‘Weidner Center for the Performing Arts’ on Facebook, Twitter (@WeidnerCenter) and Instagram (@weidnercenter).

About the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay is a comprehensive public institution offering undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs to nearly 8,000 students with campus locations in Green Bay, Marinette, Manitowoc and Sheboygan. Established in 1965 on the border of Green Bay, the University and its campuses are centers of cultural enrichment, innovation and learning. The Green Bay campus is home to one of the Midwest’s most prolific performing arts centers, a nationally recognized 4,000-seat student recreation center, an award-winning nine-hole golf course and a five-mile recreational trail and arboretum, which is free and open to the public. This four-campus University transforms lives and communities through student-focused teaching and research, innovative learning opportunities, powerful connections and a problem-solving approach to education. UW-Green Bay’s main campus is centrally located, close to both the Door County resort area and the dynamic economies of Northeast Wisconsin, the Fox Valley region and the I-43 corridor. UW-Green Bay offers in-demand programs in science, engineering and technology; business; health, education and social welfare; and arts, humanities and social sciences. For more information, visit

Give BIG Green Bay, online or through text until noon today!

Thank you to those who have donated to some of Green Bay’s coolest causes including the Cofrin Arboretum. Giving is open until noon, today. Serving as an outdoor classroom and a recreational trail, the arboretum also greatly enhances the beauty of UW-Green Bay. Donations through the Give BIG Green Bay campaign, Feb. 20-21 (noon to noon), will be matched, in part, by the Green Bay Packers and the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation. Check out the profile. Until noon today, you can text-to-give: Simply text GIVE to 31011.

Green Bay women’s basketball gets an extra home game

With a few regular-season games to play (at home Thursday and Saturday), the Green Bay women’s basketball team has clinched a Top 4 Seed in the Horizon League Championship and will get to host a quarterfinal game on Wednesday, March 6 at 7 p.m. at the Kress Center. The winner of the quarterfinals pairing will advance to the Little Caesars Women’s Basketball Championship Semifinals in Detroit, Mich., at the Little Caesars Arena on March 11. The championship game will take place on Tuesday, March 12 at 11 a.m. CT and will be televised on ESPNU. More here.

Approaching 1,000 Program Wins

During its 46 years as a program, the Green Bay women’s basketball team has accumulated a total of 998 victories. During those 46 seasons, three head coaches have graced the sidelines for the Phoenix, starting with Carol Hammerle in the 1973-74 campaign. Hammerle led the program for 25 seasons and accumulated 456 wins before passing the torch to Kevin Borseth in 1998-99, who would go on to lead the Phoenix for 16 total seasons in two separate stints leading up to our present campaign. Borseth has racked up 394 wins with the Phoenix and continues to add to that number with each passing game. Matt Bollant took the reins from 2007-12, amassing 148 victories in five seasons and leading the program to an appearance in the Sweet Sixteen.

Students, community members can join-in on Florida Keys trip

The course Biology 298 Special Topics In Biology, Biology of the Florida Keys, will be running a trip to the Florida Keys from Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019 through Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019. This course can be taken by students for credit as well as by community members and non-credit participants. Biology of the Florida Keys is snorkel-based course that will introduce students to the life that inhabits the marine ecosystems of the Florida Keys. Students will travel to Marine Lab in Key Largo, Florida for seven very full days of snorkeling, field trips, lab activities, fieldwork and discussions. Learn more.

UW-Green Bay, Sheboygan Campus men’s basketball team wins the WCC Eastern Division

The UW-Green Bay, Sheboygan Campus men’s basketball team has won the 2018-19 Wisconsin Collegiate Conference (WCC) Eastern Division with a 14-2 record. The team will play in the WCC Final Four on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019 at Just-A-Game Fieldhouse in Wisconsin Dells, opening with a 2 p.m. game against UW-Baraboo/Sauk County.

  • UW-Green Bay, Sheboygan Campus student Dylan Martens was voted WCC East Player of the Year.
  • UW-Green Bay, Sheboygan Campus student Quentin Beaudoin was voted 2nd team WCC All-Conference.
  • UW-Green Bay, Sheboygan Campus student Steve Sokolowski was voted 2nd team WCC All-Conference.
  • Coach William Greenwood II was voted 2018-19 WCC East Coach of the Year.
#35 Dylan Martens
#4 Quentin Beaudoin


#33 Steve Sokolowski
Head Coach William Greenwood II


UW-Green Bay alumnus has art exhibition on display

UW-Green Bay alumnus Cristian Andersson ’13 (Studio Arts, Design Arts) has an exhibition entitled “Social Amnesia” that will be running at the Aylward Gallery at the UW-Oshkosh, Fox Valley Campus until Friday, Mar. 8, 2019. The exhibition includes new paintings, sculptural items and the Scriptorium – a 9′ x 36.5′ installation piece. The performance piece “EARTH||AIR” had its debut and the familial sculptures still stand in the gallery. Learn more.