Harmful Algal Blooms Initiative


Coastal Ocean Institute

RNA Sequencing of Algae Offers Insights in Brown Tide Causes

Harmful algal blooms (HABs – most commonly known as “red tides”) represent a significant threat to fisheries, public health, and economies around the world. The incidence of HABs has escalated in recent decades, especially in coastal areas that have experienced increases of pollutant and nutrient runoff from fertilizers and sewer systems. Blooms occur every year in coastal regions of the U.S. and cost society hundreds of millions of dollars. 

WHOI scientists are sequencing the Ribonucleic acid (RNA) of the phytoplankton community from a Long Island Sound HAB test site, before, during, and after a brown tide event. The RNA sequences will be assembled to examine the nutrient-utilization pathways that are present and active in each phytoplankton species from the different samples. In this manner, she can examine whether, for example, pathways for organic matter utilization are active during different bloom periods and if they change in conjunction with organic matter concentrations in the water, as she hypothesizes they might.

The two-year project aims to provide valuable and unique insight into how coastal nutrients, metals, and other substances fuel brown tides.