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Images: Trouble in the Tropics

Katie Pitz is on the hunt for invisible yet dangerous organisms in the tropical ocean. Pitz, a graduate student in the MIT-WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography, is conducting research on a microscopic phytoplankton that produce toxins that cause Ciguatera Fish Poisoning, a food-borne illness that harms thousands of people each year. (Melissa Moulton, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Katie Pitz collects specimens of dead coral rubble that harbor the toxic phytoplankton Gambierdiscus. She is investigating many facets of Gambierdiscus in an effort to combat the serious food-borne illness they inflict on people. (Melissa Moulton, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
There are several different species of Gambierdiscus, and Pitz is developing a way to apply fluorescent probes to different species based on their genetic code, using a technique called fluorescence in situ hybridization, or FISH. FISH probes have an attached fluorophore that glows under certain wavelengths of light. Here the cells are seen using a species specific probe designed by Pitz. (Katie Pitz, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Using FISH, Pitz can target species of Gambierdiscus by their particular genetic sequences and identify different species in samples using a fluorescence microscope. This technique will help scientists enumerate the different Gambierdiscus species in the environment and learn how communities of Gambierdiscus change over time and in different locations. This cell is visualized with the common fluorescent stain CalciFluor, which is used to label dinoflagellate thecal plates to identify their morphology. (Katie Pitz, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
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