Investigation of Bioactive Potentials of Benthic and Epiphytic Toxic Algae (BETA) and Their Associated Microbiota

Project: Research

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The frequency of the occurrence, and geographic expansion, of benthic dinoflagellates, have been affected by global climate change and human activities, and pose a great threat to human health and marine ecosystems. Benthic dinoflagellates such as the genus Gambierdiscus, Prorocentrum and Amphidinium are sources of potent marine toxins, including ciguatoxins (CTXs), okadaic acid, dinophysistoxins and amphidinols. CTXs are the most common non-bacterial algal toxins infecting humans. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of people are affected annually, often with significant longterm health effects. “HABs in Benthic Systems” was launched as a Core Research Project in the Global Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms research program; and benthic algae and ciguatera fish poisoning (CFP) as new research topics have attracted a high level of concern for international marine research institutions and governments. Studies show that the majority of toxigenic benthic dinoflagellates are distributed between the 35° north and south latitudes, but recent studies have documented their presence in subtropical and even temperate areas, together with novel species of toxic dinoflagellates. These benthic dinoflagellates attach on marine substrates, macroalgae and coral rubble in coral reef ecosystems, and are easily accessible to marine herbivores and filter feeders. Lipophilic algal toxins are shown to be bio-transferred and -transformed along trophic levels, which eventually threaten human lives upon seafood consumption. The aim of our project is to conduct a joint sampling effort with our collaborators in Hong Kong, mainland China, Malaysia, and Taiwan, where toxic dinoflagellates have often been reported. Benthic dinoflagellates will be isolated and identified using both molecular analysis and chemical profiling to reveal the relationship of toxin production and biogeographic characteristics in the coral communities of the Asian region. Combined with traditional toxicity analysis, the bio-accessibility model will reveal trophic transformation and transfer of toxins, which contribute to the fate and chemical kinetics of detoxification in marine ecosystems. With the successful large-scale cultivation of targeted microalgae, potential novel algal toxins will be identified and isolated using high resolution mass spectrometry techniques as a region-specific source. This study will promote the understanding of algal toxins in Asian waters and establish standard operational procedures for bioactive screening of benthic dinoflagellates and their associated microbiota and thus contribute to seafood safety assessment. 


Project number9043126
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/22 → …