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NCCOS Project

Rapid Detection of Harmful Algae

This project began in January 2003 and was completed in December 2012

To provide coastal managers with the early warning needed to implement timely and effective mitigation strategies to reduce a harmful algal bloom’s negative impacts, we are producing rapid, easy-to-use kits for detecting harmful algal species in U.S. coastal waters and elsewhere. These tests provide sensitive, reliable detection of harmful algae by means of molecular probes designed specifically for a given species and applied in a pre-packaged test kit.

Why We Care
Since 1982, the dinoflagellate, Cochlodinium, has caused extensive mortality among wild and farmed fish populations in South Korean coastal waters, with annual losses ranging from $20 to $90 million (in USD). This organism is now widely reported to form blooms in coastal waters of the United States and Canada, representing a potential threat to North American aquaculture. The ability to detect this fish-killing species at low, pre-bloom levels will provide the advance warning needed to initiate mitigation activities, such as early harvests or re-location of fish pens, which can reduce economic losses. Effectively managing algal blooms and minimizing their adverse effects on coastal communities relies on detecting their development at the earliest possible stage.

What We Did
We have developed a detection kit for the fish-killing dinoflagellate, Cochlodinium. The test is conducted on an automated processing unit and is completed within an hour, providing an estimate of the target cell concentration. We worked in collaboration with the National Fisheries Research and Development Institute, Tongyeong, South Korea, and a U.S. company, Saigene Biotech, Inc.

Next Steps
The test kit for Cochlodinium is currently undergoing field validation trials and modifications to improve the sensitivity of detection. We are also developing molecular probes for other harmful algae of concern in both Korean and United States coastal waters that can be added to the kit and to allow simultaneous detection of multiple species in a single sample. Next generation versions of this test will be designed to take advantage of emerging technologies that are highly sensitive yet inexpensive and therefore more cost-effective for monitoring programs.

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NCCOS delivers ecosystem science solutions for stewardship of the nation’s ocean and coastal resources to sustain thriving coastal communities and economies.

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