Quantitative polymerase chain reaction for the estimation of toxigenic microalgae abundance in shellfish production waters

McQuillan, Jonathan S.; Alrefaey, Ahmed; Turner, Andrew D.; Morrell, Nadine; Stoner, Oliver; Brown, Ross; Kay, Suzanne; Cooke, Simon; Bage, Timothy. 2023 Quantitative polymerase chain reaction for the estimation of toxigenic microalgae abundance in shellfish production waters. Harmful Algae, 102497.

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Certain species of marine microalgae produce potent biotoxins that pose a risk to human health if contaminated seafood is consumed, particularly filter feeding bivalve shellfish. In regions where this is likely to occur water and seafood produce are regularly monitored for the presence of harmful algal cells and their associated toxins, but the current approach is flawed by a lengthy delay before results are available to local authorities. Quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction (qPCR) can be used to measure phytoplankton DNA sequences in a shorter timeframe, however it is not currently used in official testing practices. In this study, samples were collected almost weekly over six months from three sites within a known HAB hotspot, St Austell Bay in Cornwall, England. The abundance of algal cells in water was measured using microscopy and qPCR, and lipophilic toxins were quantified in mussel flesh using LC-MS/MS, focusing on the okadaic acid group. An increase in algal cell abundance occurred alongside an increase in the concentration of okadaic acid group toxins in mussel tissue at all three study sites, during September and October 2021. This event corresponded to an increase in the measured levels of Dinophysis accuminata DNA, measured using qPCR. In the following spring, the qPCR detected an increase in D. accuminata DNA levels in water samples, which was not detected by microscopy. Harmful algal species belonging to Alexandrium spp. and Pseudo-nitzschia spp. were also measured using qPCR, finding a similar increase in abundance in Autumn and Spring. The results are discussed with consideration of the potential merits and limitations of the qPCR technique versus conventional microscopy analysis, and its potential future role in phytoplankton surveillance under the Official Controls Regulations pertaining to shellfish.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
ISSN: 15689883
Date made live: 05 Sep 2023 11:08 +0 (UTC)

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