Harmful blooms of the alga Pseudo-nitzschia cause huge damage in coastal areas globally.
The MBA holds thousands of plankton samples stretching back to 1960. Research in Marine Ecology Progress Series led by Dr Rowena Stern found an unexpectedly large number of different varieties within this toxic algal species.
This is the first time we have used DNA from these archived samples to identify toxic algae. This allows us to map changes in the health of our ocean, benefiting wildlife and humans.
Dr Stern said: “Pseudo-nitzschia cells are almost impossible to tell apart using routine microscopy, but using this technique we can discriminate between many toxic and non-toxic forms, allowing us to map ocean health and predict movements of toxic algae more precisely”.
Researchers at the MBA are looking at mapping changes in toxic algal species to help predict marine planning and sustainable use of food resources.
The MBA operates the longest-running global network of continuous plankton recorder (CPR) samplers identifying over 500 types of planktonic organism (find out more here). The archived samples and associated data are a unique resource for understanding marine ecosystems and predicting ocean health.
These CPR data sets are freely available at the data portal.