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Response of the Toxic Dinoflagellate Karenia brevis to Current and Projected Environmental Conditions: Salinity and Global Climate Change
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Harmful algal blooms (HABs) are increasing in frequency and duration worldwide. Karenia brevis, the major toxic dinoflagellate in the Gulf of Mexico, produces potent neurotoxins, known as brevetoxins. For K. brevis, only minor concentrations of brevetoxins are needed to induce toxicity and environmental conditions appear to have the most direct impact on the cellular content of these toxins. A better understanding of K. brevis biology is essential to understand the mechanisms underlying toxin production and the ecology of such HABs, as well as to better anticipate and respond to such blooms. Here we present findings on the effect of salinity and availability of carbon on cellular physiology and brevetoxin and brevenal production by K. brevis. When grown at salinities of 35 and 27, but otherwise identical conditions, total brevetoxin cellular concentration varied between 0 to 18.5 pg cell-1 and brevenal varied between 0 and 1 pg cell-1. In response to hypoosmotic stress brevetoxin production was triggered, as a result, brevetoxin production increased up to 53%, while growth rates remained unchanged. A significant hypoosmotic event of >11%, was needed to trigger the response in brevetoxin production. To determine if K. brevis was sensing changes in specific ions within seawater (K+, Cl- or Ca2+), we systematically removed one ion while keeping the remaining ions at equivalent molar concentration for salinity of 35. Dilution in seawater K+ concentrations triggered the production of brevetoxins, increasing production ≥44%. Ecosystem changes due to climate change have increased the production of toxins in other HAB species; here we examined the impact on K. brevis. We have shown that modification of pCO2 level and temperature did not influence brevetoxin production; however, predicted climate change scenarios (increased temperature and pCO2) did significantly increase the growth rate of K. brevis, by 60% at 25°C and 55% at 30°C. We suggest that K. brevis blooms could benefit from predicted increase in pCO2 over the next 100 years. Overall, our findings close a critical gap in knowledge regarding the function of brevetoxin in K. brevis by identifying a connection between brevetoxin production and osmoacclimation.
Subjectharmful algal bloom
imaging flow cytobot
Errera, Reagan Michelle (2013). Response of the Toxic Dinoflagellate Karenia brevis to Current and Projected Environmental Conditions: Salinity and Global Climate Change. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from