High specificity of a quantitative PCR assay targeting a saxitoxin gene for monitoring toxic algae associated with paralytic shellfish toxins in the Yellow Sea

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 2015, 81 (20), pp. 6973 - 6981
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© 2015, American Society for Microbiology. The identification of core genes involved in the biosynthesis of saxitoxin (STX) offers a great opportunity to detect toxic algae associated with paralytic shellfish toxins (PST). In the Yellow Sea (YS) in China, both toxic and nontoxic Alexandrium species are present, which makes it a difficult issue to specifically monitor PST-producing toxic algae. In this study, a quantitative PCR (qPCR) assay targeting sxtA4, a domain in the sxt gene cluster that encodes a unique enzyme involved in STX biosynthesis, was applied to analyze samples collected from the YS in spring of 2012. The abundance of two toxic species within the Alexandrium tamarense species complex, i.e., A. fundyense and A. pacificum, was also determined with TaqMan-based qPCR assays, and PSTs in net-concentrated phytoplankton samples were analyzed with high-performance liquid chromatography coupled with a fluorescence detector. It was found that the distribution of the sxtA4 gene in the YS was consistent with the toxic algae and PSTs, and the quantitation results of sxtA4 correlated well with the abundance of the two toxic species (r = 0.857). These results suggested that the two toxic species were major PST producers during the sampling season and that sxtA-based qPCR is a promising method to detect toxic algae associated with PSTs in the YS. The correlation between PST levels and sxtA-based qPCR results, however, was less significant (r = 0.552), implying that sxtA-based qPCR is not accurate enough to reflect the toxicity of PSTproducing toxic algae. The combination of an sxtA-based qPCR assay and chemical means might be a promising method for monitoring toxic algal blooms.
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