Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Marine Science

Major Professor

John H. Paul, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Mya Breitbart, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michael Parsons, Ph.D.


Pseudo-nitzschia, NASBA, qRT-PCR, harmful algae detection, rbcS


The marine diatom genus Pseudo-nitzschia includes species that produce domoic acid, a neurotoxin responsible for illness and mortality in both humans and marine wildlife. Because of the expertise and time required for the microscopic discrimination of species, molecular methods that monitor environmental concentrations of Pseudo-nitzschia provide a rapid alternative for the early detection of blooms and prediction of toxin accumulation. We have developed a nucleic acid sequence-based amplification with internal control RNA (IC-NASBA) assay and a quantitative reverse transcription PCR (qRT-PCR) assay for the detection of the toxic species P. multiseries targeting the ribulose- 1,5-biphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase small subunit (rbcS) gene. Both methods use RNA amplification and fluorescence-based real-time detection. Due to a limited rbcS sequence database, primers were designed and used to sequence this gene from 14 strains of Pseudo-nitzschia (including four P. multiseries) and 19 other marine diatoms. The IC-NASBA and qRT-PCR assays had a limit of detection of one cultured cell of P. multiseries and were linear over four and five orders of magnitude, respectively (r2 ! 0.98). Neither of the assays detected closely related organisms outside the Pseudo-nitzschia genus, and the qRT-PCR assay was specific to P. multiseries. While cross-reactivity of primers with unknown species prevented reliable detection of P. multiseries in spiked environmental samples using IC-NASBA, the qRT-PCR assay had positive detection from 107 cells/L to 103 cells/L. Nearly a 1:1 relationship was observed between predicted and calculated cell concentrations using qRT-PCR. Based on a diel expression study, the rbcS transcript copy number per cell ranged from 2.16 x 104 to 5.35 x 104, with the highest expression during early to mid photoperiod. The rbcS qRT-PCR assay is useful for the detection and enumeration of low concentrations of P. multiseries in the environment.