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NCCOS Research Project

Toxic Prymesium parvuum: Characterization of Toxins Affecting Aquaculture, Environmental and Human Health

Primary Contact(s): peter.moeller@noaa.gov
This project began in January 2006 and is Ongoing

We have successfully identified several toxins and chemical properties of the harmful alga Prymesium parvuum with the ultimate goal of developing detection and monitoring tools. Until very recently the toxins remained totally uncharacterized. Thus, detection and monitoring tools to track these toxins remain undeveloped. We are currently developing analytical chemical detection methods to monitor and quantify these toxins.

Why Care

Prymesium parvuum is a flagellated toxin-producing alga found world-wide that is of growing concern.  For over a century it has adversely affected fish grown in aquaculture ponds and water impoundments such as estuaries and drinking water reservoirs with higher salinity.  Prymnesium p. is one of the worst such organisms affecting aquaculture world-wide. Fish losses due to this organism are estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Its significant presence in commercial and recreational waters, rivers and lakes, results in toxins incorporated into the resident food web, resulting in death or serious injury to fish, mammals and possibly humans. Until now the toxins produced by Prymnesium p. remained totally uncharacterized chemicals. During this past century detection and monitoring tools to track or quantify them in important matrices did not exist. The species are commonly called golden algae and their harmful algal blooms (HABs) “golden tides.”

What We Are Doing

To facilitate remediation and mitigation strategies we are better understanding what causes the fish killing Prymesium p. to produce its toxins and capitalizing on knowing their chemical structures. We also work with collaborators world-wide to isolate other toxin producing Prymesium species implicated in HAB events.

We have isolated and characterized seven Prymesium  p. toxins using a number of organic and inorganic chemical tools to develop accurate three dimensional structures. We are using this information to develop analytical detection and monitoring tools (e.g., nuclear magnetic resonance) associated toxins. We are working with pharmacologists, toxicologists and other medical professions to assess the toxin mode of action. Our research will result in antidotal or medical treatments for those exposed and subjected to intoxication.

Next Steps

Once we characterize all the responsible toxins, we will produce methods for toxin detection and monitoring using liquid chromatography (LC) and liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry (LC/MS).  States and countries affected by this organism will benefit from use of these analytical tools. We are working on a toxin remediation and mitigation scheme that may destroy the toxins in water or inhibit growth of the toxic organisms. Lastly, we are developing methods to monitor and quantify these toxins from seawater, fish and shellfish, and other matrices.

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