In 2016, an unprecedented harmful algal bloom with detectable levels of domoic acid spanned across New England, prompting a recall of over 5 tons of potentially infected shellfish in Maine and the first-ever bay-wide closure for shellfishing in Rhode Island as a precaution although toxicity never reach harmful levels. The presence of domoic acid also led to another closure of shellfish harvesting in Narragansett Bay the following year. The cause of these events remains unknown, and the implications for local economies and human health prompted research to better understand and monitor Pseudo-nitzschia, the genus of plankton responsible for producing domoic acid.
“Pseudo-nitzschia have been detected for over 50 years in the Narragansett Bay Long-Term Plankton Time Series but have only been a problem recently,” says Dr. Bethany Jenkins, associate professor of cellular and molecular biology at the University of Rhode Island. “What caused these events is unknown: whether an environmental factor altered the physiology of endemic Pseudo-nitzschia or new toxin-producing strain(s) were introduced.”
Researchers from the University of Rhode Island will discuss their research investigating the various strains of Pseudo-nitzschia and real-time characterization of phytoplankton communities in Narragansett Bay that allows for a rapid field response to target harmful algal bloom events as they occur.