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Probes Help Predict Algal Blooms

From the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology

For immediate release

Probes Help Predict Algal Blooms

New molecular probes developed by the Cawthron Institute will help marine farmers and public health officials predict when a toxic algal bloom is likely to occur.

Algae provide vital food for both farmed and wild shellfish, and most are non-toxic. However, when shellfish eat toxic species, they absorb the toxins and become poisonous to humans.

Marine farmers and public health officials currently rely on laboratory testing to tell them if toxins are present in shellfish, but the new probes will change all that. Instead of monitoring shellfish, the tests monitor the algae themselves, allowing early prediction of toxic blooms.

“Our molecular probe for toxin-producing phytoplankton uses a small, synthetic piece of DNA that matches the rRNA [a different kind of genetic material] in these algae,” says Cawthron biologist Lesley Rhodes. “The probe will pick up these toxic algae through matching and will also indicate how many toxic algae are present.

“This can be easily done out in the field, so it will allow rapid monitoring of these organisms and mean toxic events can be predicted before they occur.”

She says the new tools can be used to monitor algae around marine farming sites, determining if toxic species are present and what quantity. Initially, farm workers may do this on-site, but Cawthron plans to trial an automated monitoring system using “smart” buoys developed in the United States.

“These buoys are packed with electronic systems that sample the surrounding waters and radio results back to shore,” Dr Rhodes says. “They can be fitted with our new molecular probes and positioned around marine farming areas, providing an early warning system for the aquaculture industry.”

Development of the new probes has been funded by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

Contact:

- Dr Lesley Rhodes, Cawthron Institute, Nelson. Ph: (03) 548-2319; email: lesley@cawthron.org.nz.

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- Peter Burke, Foundation for Research, Science and Technology. Ph: (04) 917-7809; email: peter.burke@frst.govt.nz; web: www.frst.govt.nz.

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- Prepared on behalf of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology by ID Media Ltd.

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Contact: Ian Carson (04) 569-1742; ian@idmedia.co.nz, www.idmedia.co.nz.


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