Toxic Bloom Mystery May Be Answered by Biology Grad Student's Seawater Samples from Sonoma Coast

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Adele Paquin collects phytoplankton samples along the Sonoma coast. (Photo by Alba Medrano Cuevas)

The answer to the mystery of the unprecedented die-off of marine life along the Sonoma coastline may lie in a collection of seawater samples serendipitously collected by an SSU graduate biology student this summer.

Adele Paquin, with assistance by other SSU undergrads and a colleague from the Bodega Marine Lab, collected phytoplankton each day during the month of August and into September as an algal bloom was manifesting in Bodega Bay and further north. She now has unique data in the form of daily samples collected before, during, and after the bloom.

The 35 bottles of phytoplankton are now stored in iodine in Biology Professor Karina Nielsen's lab and samples from SSU's collection are currently being analyzed by Paquin, Nielsen and other Bay Area scientists to help determine the answer to the mystery of how or if this bloom was responsible for killing so much marine life.

deadseastars.jpgThe collection was part of Paquin's Master of Science research project developed under the mentorship of Biology Professor Karina Nielsen.

This fortuitous and unexpected collection will be a treasure trove of important data that scientists need to understand how the bloom occurred and why it was so deadly.

Paquin's data will be essential to understanding why and how the bloom could be responsible for the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of marine invertebrates, including abalone, seastars, urchins, and chitons.

gonyaulax.jpg"Our preliminary results from analyzing the samples suggest the bloom was dominated by a particular dinoflagellate called Gonyaulax spinifera, which is a species complex that is known to produce a toxin," says Paquin who was the first to identify the species involved in the bloom.

"When we complete our sample analysis we will have a daily time series of the phytoplankton species, and their concentrations during the event."

Recent analyses of Paquin's samples by collaborator Charles O'Kelly of Friday Harbor Labs (University of WA) using a scanning electron microscope suggest there may be two types of Gonyaulax spinifera present, or that instead of one species there may actually be two 'hidden' species.

"We hope to be able to do genetic analyses of these samples in the near future to determine if this is the case or not" says Nielsen. "If it turns out to be a novel species, it could prove very informative in helping to solve this mystery"

For further information, contact Professor Karina Nielsen, (707) 664-2962 or Jean Wasp, Marketing and Media Relations Coordinator, (707) 664-2057.

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ABOVE: The phytoplankton bloom added a strange bioluminescence to the ocean water along the coastline for many to enjoy in August.

LEFT: Dead sea stars littered the coastline. (Photo by Matthew Robart)

RIGHT: Scanning electron microscope image of Gonyaulax spinifera. (Courtesy of Charles O'Kelly of Friday Harbor Labs, University of Washington)

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