, Volume 30, Issue 2, pp 256-263
Date: 01 Mar 2012

Application of rRNA probes and fluorescence in situ hybridization for rapid detection of the toxic dinoflagellate Alexandrium minutum

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The dinoflagellate Alexandrium minutum is often associated with harmful algal blooms (HABs). This species consists of many strains that differ in their ability to produce toxins but have similar morphology, making identification difficult. In this study, species-specific rRNA probes were designed for whole-cell fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) to distinguish A. minutum from two phylogenetic clades. We acquired the complete SSU to LSU rDNA sequences (GenBank accession numbers JF906989-JF906999) of 11 Alexandrium strains and used these to design rRNA targeted oligonucleotide probes. Three ribotype-specific probes, M-GC-1, M-PC-2, and M-PC-3, were designed. The former is specific for the GC clade (“Global clade”) of A. minutum, the majority of which have been found non-toxic, and the latter two are specific for the PSP (paralytic shellfish poisoning)-producing PC clade (“Pacific clade”). The specificity of these three probes was confirmed by FISH. All cells in observed fields of view were fluorescently labeled when probes and target species were incubated under optimized FISH conditions. However, the accessibility of rRNA molecules in ribosomes varied among the probe binding positions. Thus, there was variation in the distribution of positive signals in labeled cells within nucleolus and cytosol (M-GC-1, M-PC-3), or just nucleolus (M-PC-2). Our results provide a methodological basis for studying the biogeography and population dynamics of A. minutum, and providing an early warning of toxic HABs.

Supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 41006082), the Postdoctoral Science Foundation (No. 20090461272), and the National Natural Science Foundation of China for Creative Research Groups (No. 40821004)