Through the use of an automated, underwater cell analyzer developed at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), researchers and coastal managers were recently able to detect a bloom of harmful marine algae in the Gulf of Mexico and prevent human consumption of tainted shellfish. Shellfish beds in parts of Texas have been closed for a month, though they are expected to re-open in the next few days.
Working with Rob Olson and Heidi Sosikplankton biologists and instrument developers at WHOIbiological oceanographer Lisa Campbell of Texas A&M University used their Imaging FlowCytobot instrument to detect a substantial increase in the abundance of the algae Dinophysis acuminata in the waters of Port Aransas, Texas.
Dinophysis acuminata produces okadaic acid, a toxin that accumulates in shellfish tissues and can cause diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP) in humans. DSP is not life-threatening, but symptoms include nausea, cramping, vomiting, and diarrhea. Cooking does not destroy the toxin in the shellfish.
The Imaging FlowCytobot, which is automated and submersible, counts microscopic plants in the water and photographs them. The images and data are relayed back to a shore-based laboratory, where specially developed software automatically classifies the plankton into taxonomic groups.
It is very satisfying to find that a technology we developed as a research tool can be so effective for protecting human health, said Olson, who has worked with Sosik for several years to prototype and modify flow cytometers, which are more typically used in many biological and medical laboratories. We designed the Imaging FlowCytobot for continuous monitoring of a wide range of plankton, and that turns out to be just what was needed to detect a harmful algal bloom that no one expected.
The discovery of the Dinophysis bloom came while the researchers were actually looking for something else. Campbell, Olson, Sosik, and colleagues d
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Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution