Harnessing the power of population genomics to understand the dynamics of Pseudo-nitzschia spp. harmful algal blooms

Project Number
Project Date Range
Focus Area(s)
Healthy Coastal Ecosystems

The diatom Pseudo-nitzschia produces a neurotoxin, domoic acid, which can cause serious illness or death in humans and marine animals, and closure of commercial fisheries during harmful algal bloom events. These blooms occur worldwide, but are most significant along the US West Coast.

To date, more than 40 species of Pseudo-nitzschia have been described. Not all of these species produce toxins, and the amount of toxin produced is not consistent.

Accurately predicting the onset and severity of Pseudo-nitzschia bloom events remains difficult. Prior work has suggested that blooms are associated with numerous causes, and the lack of consistency among environmental predictors prevents the development of predictive models based on the environmental data alone.

This project aims to assess whether harmful algal bloom toxicity is influenced by genetic variation of the Pseudo-nitzschia community. The researchers plan to develop a next-generation genetic sequencing assay to delineate both inter and intra-species levels of genetic variation.

The researchers will apply this novel approach to field samples from the San Pedro Shelf to evaluate the relationship between genetic composition and toxin production. They plan to make reference libraries and computational methods available to the broader scientific community to facilitate uptake of this method, which can then be applied to any mixed-community system.

This project will provide important information on species abundance and genetic differences within species, that could help managers better understand and forecast harmful algal blooms.