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Water Born Algal Toxins Detection


The occurrence, persistence, and severity of harmful algal blooms (HABs) and their associated toxicity is a widespread phenomenon, which is gaining increasing attention globally due to impacts on public health, drinking water supplies, coastal recreation and biological resources, as well as fisheries and aquaculture. Toxins associated with HABs cause human illnesses, such as paralytic shellfish poisoning, neurotoxic shellfish

poisoning, amnesic shellfish poisoning, and ciguatera fish poisoning, among others. The algal (and cyanobacterial) species associated with algal blooms can differ across geographic regions, and multiple HAB species can exhibit spatio-temporally overlapping distributions. Their toxins belong to several categories, including, saxitoxins, brevetoxins, domoic acid, okadaic acid/dinophysistoxins, and cyanotoxins). Some of the toxins have many structural analogs. For example, more than 20 congeners of saxitoxins are known, each with a different toxic potency and the potential to occur at widely different levels (or be entirely absent) from a sample being tested. Given the challenges of regional algal diversity and the complexity posed by multiple toxin congeners, successful detection technologies and monitoring systems are likely to be region-specific.


NOAA has conducted or sponsored numerous research studies over the past decade to advance the detection and monitoring of algal cells and their toxins that are associated with HABs. Examples include advancing receptor-binding assays, developing passive sampling devices for algal toxins, nucleic acid probes for detection algal species, an automated underwater microscope, biosensor detection technologies, and nucleic acid probes. NOAA has also participated in the development and application of the Environmental Sample Processo*r, a robotic electromechanical/fluidic system with integrated sensors for detecting and reporting subsurface concentrations of algal species and toxins in near-real time. Products from these studies continue to improve operational monitoring, typically conducted by states, and some have a known potential for commercialization.


Patchy distribution of algal cells, dynamic changes in their abundance, and lack of a consistent, and as yet predictable, relationship between cell abundance and toxin levels necessitate measurements of both algal cells and toxins.


Applications in this subtopic might include technologies that address a continuing need to develop, improve, and implement algal cell and toxin detection sensors and monitoring systems that can provide state and local officials, as well as stakeholders at large, with the ability to measure relevant  targets better (i.e., accuracy, precision), faster, and in a more cost-effective manner.



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