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Early Warning of Texas HAB Protects Public Health

NCCOS-funded researchers and the NCCOS-sponsored Phytoplankton Monitoring Network (PMN) detected increasing numbers of Dinophysis, a toxic dinoflagellate, in Texas coastal waters, prompting the Department of State Health Services to temporarily close many areas to shellfish harvesting.

Dinophysis produces a suite of toxins that accumulate in shellfish and cause severe gastric distress (Diarrhetic Shellfish Poisoning or DSP) in human consumers. A bloom in 2008 caused widespread shellfish toxicity and shellfish harvesting closures.

As part of a NCCOS ECOHAB project, researchers were using an Imaging FlowCytobot, an automated and submersible instrument that counts and photographs microscopic algae in the water and telemeters the data to a shore-based laboratory.

The PMN provided information on the spatial distribution of Dinophysis cells, which was used to determine the geographic extend of the closure. Such early warning prevents the occurrence of human illness from HAB toxins.

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