I am interested in natural toxins produced by harmful algal blooms (HABs); my interests range from toxin production or detoxification within an organism to system monitoring and management for HABs.
My graduate studies focused on the ecotoxicology of microcystins, a potent class of freshwater cyanobacterial hepatotoxins. Microcystins were determined to be a possible driver in the eradication of the burrowing mayfly, Hexagenia spp., from North American water bodies and as an impediment to recolonization. On an organismal level, I found evidence that microcystins, which were covalently bound within the tissues of an organism, are bioavailable for food web transfer and could be toxic within the consumer. In addition, I developed an internal standard for the standardization of microcystin extraction from animal tissue.
As a postdoctoral scholar at WHOI, I will have the unique opportunity to study the ecophysiology of a recently cultivated marine dinoflagellate, Dinophysis spp., focusing on its production of Diarrheic Shellfish Poisoning (DSP) toxins. Donald Anderson’s laboratory (Biology Department) has been able to maintain this organism in culture for over a year and was the first to demonstrate toxin production under controlled conditions, positioning the lab to make rapid advances in this field. Lab culturing experiments will be used to test the hypotheses that (1) toxin production by Dinophysis is dependent upon prey type and/or prey abundance and (2) the degradation and excretion of toxins from Dinophysis is dependent upon cell health; these studies will build on my experience with culturing techniques, biochemical assays, and mass spectrometry. Mass spectrometry will be possible through the lab’s recent acquisition of a Q-ToF (quadrupole time-of-flight) tandem mass spectrometer through collaboration with the US FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. My time at WHOI will introduce me to coastal oceanography, dinoflagellate ecophysiology, and the toxicology of DSP toxins, promoting my long-term goals of interdisciplinary research and a career focusing on the ecotoxicology of harmful algal blooms.
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