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NOAA Scientists Develop Blood Collection Cards That Provide New On Site Technology For Harmful Algal Bloom Rapid Response

Scientists at NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science laboratory in Charleston, S.C. have developed new-in-the field technology for blood collection that can identify the presence of toxins in living animals and better predict the impact of harmful algal bloom (HAB) events. The group published their findings in the October issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, a peer reviewed scientific journal published by the National Institutes of Health. NOAA is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The development is significant because proactive management of HAB events requires an ability to measure toxins in living animals during the initial stages of harmful algal blooms. The new technology to meet this demand has been developed through collaborative research with NCCOS and AgResearch Ltd. (New Zealand) resulting in an improved toxin detection methodology for use with blood collection cards. The findings demonstrate that brevetoxin can be measured in the blood of laboratory animals within an hour of exposure at doses ten times below those that elicit symptoms. The toxin can also be measured in animals following a higher level of exposure for at least two days.

“NOAA is always looking to foster rapid response by monitoring agencies and health departments to safeguard public health, local economies, and fisheries,” notes NOAA’s John Ramsdell, who led the research team. “This is a significant step forward in those efforts in that the analysis of toxins extracted from blood collection cards during HAB events is anticipated to provide early indications of toxic events and enhance predictive capacity of the toxic consequences of red tides in protected species.”

Working in conjunction with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service Working Group on Unusual Mortality Events, NCCOS has distributed blood collection cards to field personnel for toxin analysis. Recent work has determined that the method is applicable to marine mammals and has begun to identify brevetoxin in the blood of animals exposed to red tides, a form of harmful algal bloom.

In related research Ramsdell’s group is also applying this technology to predict the extent of the impact of red tides on aquatic species using fish as an indicator. These studies will determine how quickly fish become toxic when encountering a red tide, and how long they continue to disperse toxicity to upper trophic levels of the food chain after they leave the red tide.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through research to better understand weather and climate-related events and to manage wisely the nation’s coastal and marine resources.

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