LC-MS

Mass Screening for Algal Blooms — Chromatography Can Help

Nov 17 2017 Comments 0

Remember the headlines in summer about the mysterious gas cloud that left over 150 people needing hospital treatment on the Sussex coast? Or what about the residents of Toledo, Ohio in the US having to buy bottled water? You may have seen the signs in your local park from time-to-time warning you to keep Fido out of the duck pond. The factor linking all these incidents are algal blooms.

Load up your app

It seems algal blooms are here to stay as our waters become more polluted. In fact, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology — a UK organisation that under the remit of the Natural Environment Research Council — has even developed an app so we can report algal blooms. And while the effects of algal blooms on shellfish have been studied extensively, less research on the screening of water to help predict blooms has been carried out.

But a team from The First Institute of Oceanography in Qingdao, China has started to address this. In a paper published in Chemosphere —they describe how chromatography can be used to screen seawater for lipophilic marine toxins, a cause of marine algal blooms. Using chromatography to analyse contaminants is discussed in the article, LC-MS/MS and GC-MS/MS Multi Residue Pesticide Analysis in Fruit and Vegetable Extracts on a Single Tandem Quadrupole Mass Spectrometer.

Blooms all over

Algal blooms can occur in both fresh and sea water. In inland waters like lakes or streams, algal blooms occur typically in summer and early autumn — when the water is warm. Some types of bloom — caused by cyanobacteria or ‘blue-green’ algae — can be unsightly and make the water and banks appear dirty. But, even more seriously they can produce toxins. These toxins can kill livestock and pets. They can also harm people causing skin and eye irritations, muscle pains and fever.

Phytoplankton cause algal blooms at sea. These are microscopic plants and seaweeds that can cause blooms in ideal conditions, again usually in warmer weather. A bloom is usually caused by one species and can harm marine animals by blocking the gills of fish and producing toxins. If toxic blooms infect shellfish, then they can cause economic hardship for communities and  be harmful for anyone who eats them.

Toxic blooms are rare in UK coastal waters, but we can still be blighted by non-toxic blooms. One of the most common forms a frothy brown scum on can be blown ashore where it makes a brown, smelly sludge.

Predicting blooms?

The research carried out by the Qingdao scientists looks to address the paucity of knowledge about the pollution levels in seawater by screening for lipophilic marine toxins (LMTs). The method they developed was validated as accurately measuring LMTs and was shown to reliably screen marine samples for LMTs — detecting several types of toxins. This suggests that the method could be used to screen marine samples for toxins and thus give a warning of a potential bloom.

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