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Collaborative Research: Identification Of Nitrogen Sources For Toxic Alexandrium Blooms Using A Novel Species-Specific Tracer, D15N-Saxitoxin


<p>The US and other countries throughout the world are affected by harmful algal blooms (HABs) that negatively impact human health, marine ecosystems, fisheries resources, and local economies. Anthropogenic nutrient loadings have been linked to expanding HAB incidence, but the relationship is site- and organism-specific, and is still poorly understood. The main challenge in this regard is to determine the relative importance of natural versus anthropogenic nutrient sources in the development of an individual HAB species. Given the diverse nature of the planktonic assemblage in which HABs occur, and the lack of appropriate measurement techniques, this is exceedingly difficult to accomplish. In this project, research teams at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and University of Texas at Austin will take a novel approach to this challenge: They use use the nitrogen isotopic signature (del15N) of a species-specific HAB toxin to identify the nitrogen source and chemical form that promotes cell growth and toxin production. The bloom-forming dinoflagellate Alexandrium fundyense and its class of bioactive compounds, saxitoxins (STXs), are an ideal model system as STXs are nitrogen-rich and are typically only produced by a single species in mixed plankton assemblages. The guiding overall hypothesis is that the isotopic signature of a HAB-specific toxin can be used to discriminate between anthropogenic and natural sources of N and provide more details than bulk material del15N on the source, chemical form, and processing of N that lead to blooms of a particular toxic species. This hypothesis is based on the principle that human and animal waste in groundwater and sewage become 15N-enriched and inorganic fertilizers 15N-depleted, relative to natural sources of N in catchment waters. While the use of the isotopic ratio del15N of bulk biomass to identify nitrogen sources to coastal waters is a widely accepted practice, this use of a toxin as a species-specific tracer or marker is new and will provide details on the explicit source, chemical form, and processing of nitrogen that results in blooms of a particular HAB species. Broader Impacts: This project addresses fundamental issues underlying the most widespread of all HAB poisoning syndromes, paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP), a major form of shellfish poisoning that affects countries throughout the world. Project results can also assist in policy decisions about pollution control and other bloom mitigation strategies, and can be applied to a range of HAB species - those that produce saxitoxins, as well as those that produce other toxins that are nitrogen rich. Project results will be broadly disseminated through scientific papers, presentations at workshops, domestic and international conferences, and departmental seminars, and discussions with the media.</p>

Smith, Juliette L
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
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