Algae Blooms are Getting Worse

A gigantic colony of toxic algae in the Pacific Ocean near the United States is currently threatening the region’s fishing industry, tourism and public safety.  The algae bloom, which stretches from California to Alaska and has been growing for months, is up to 40 miles wide and up to 650 feet deep.

It sounds like a bad science fiction movie, but it’s not.  Algae blooms have been reported around the world in locations ranging from Mexico to Iran to Russia to Senegal.  Last year, an algae bloom in America’s Great Lakes forced the city of Toledo, Ohio, to shut down its drinking water supply.

Historically, algae blooms are cyclical and dissipate quickly.  But lately they have getting been more frequent and longer lasting, occurring in more places and over wider geographic areas.  The science is not yet conclusive, but some researchers believe this is a consequence of climate change resulting in warmer water.  Others believe that human activities such as agriculture, mining and sewage disposal create a more nutrient-rich environment in coastal waters.

Ocean blooms turn seawater reddish-brown, earning them the nickname “red tides.”  Freshwater blooms tend to be bluish-green.  Some algae species produce neurotoxins that can endanger marine ecosystems and human health.  The consumption of contaminated shellfish or fish can lead to human poisoning or even death.

The previous method for monitoring biotoxins, the mouse bioassay, was determined to be inadequate.  Agilent has developed an integrated method that uses a Triple-Quadrupole LC-MS system in combination with a rapid-resolution HPLC and MassHunter software.  This method is highly sensitive and selective in determining marine toxins in shellfish, and has the flexibility to add other lipophilic (fat-dissolving) toxins.

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