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UNF professor studies toxic red tide in Florida

Coral underwaterA UNF professor has gained new insight on the effects of red tide events on native Florida species like coral.

The occurrence of toxic red tide events in the state of Florida, caused by the algae Karenia brevis, has received considerable attention over the past several decades. While large and persistent blooms of K. brevis are known to occur on an annual basis on Florida’s Gulf Coast, super blooms have drawn national media attention over the past few years.

Dr. Cliff Ross, UNF Department of Biology professor and chair; David Reynolds, UNF biology master’s program alum and current biology visiting lecturer; and colleagues from Clarkson University and the University of Delaware took on a novel, interdisciplinary study to better understand how red tide and its associated toxins, called brevetoxins, affect corals.

The results of their pioneer study, recently published in the multidisciplinary, peer-reviewed journal  PLOS One, provide new insight into the ecology, behavior and sublethal stress of reef-building corals in response to K. brevis exposure and underscore the importance of recognizing the potential of red tide to act as a regional stressor to these important foundation species.

Ross, Reynolds and their colleagues Mi-Jeong Yoo and Danielle Dixson discovered that while corals may not look sick, those exposed to red tide display signs of protein changes reflective of cell stress. This was determined using a technique called iTRAQ-based quantitative proteomic analysis. The novel use of this technique with corals demonstrated that protein regulation was highly contingent upon biological versus chemical treatment (i.e. live K. brevis vs. solely brevetoxin exposure) and that several broad pathways associated with cell stress were affected.

The journal article is titled, “Exposure to the Florida red tide dinoflagellate, Karenia brevis, and its associated brevetoxins induces ecophysiological and proteomic alterations in Porites astreoides.” Read the full study.