Two emerging technologies for rapidly detecting Pfiesteria piscicida and its toxins--a "reporter gene assay" that exploits the power of a firefly enzyme and DNA-based molecular probes--will be described March 18 by expert JoAnn M. Burkholder, as part of an Ocean Lunch and Lecture Series cosponsored by the University of Delaware's College of Marine Studies and Sea Grant College Program.
Burkholder, an associate professor of botany at North Carolina State University who co-discovered the Pfiesteria organism--a single-celled "dinoflagellate" that in certain life phases literally flagellates or whips through water, sometimes releasing toxins that kill fish--also will clarify techniques for recognizing true Pfiesteria versus "Pfiesteria look-alikes."
Field-ready detection systems now are being developed by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Marine Biotoxins Program and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, in conjunction with Burkholder. Pfiesteria--the so-called "cell from hell"--has been found in nutrient-rich estuaries from Delaware's Indian River Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. Public fears escalated last year when Maryland medical specialists documented health problems such as short-term memory loss and skin rashes among people who had been exposed to the organism in water. Detectors show promise for minimizing such exposure.
UD Water-Quality Experts
Though harmful algal blooms have been reported for centuries, many researchers believe that runoff of fertilizers and other nutrients from farms, homes and industry help promote Pfiesteria outbreaks. At UD, marine and agricultural scientists, geologists and a host of other researchers have been studying water-quality issues for 25 years. The following UD experts can comment on various water-quality issues: