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Keywords:

  • Alexandrium;
  • hydrophilic interaction liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry (HILIC–MS);
  • molecular identification;
  • paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP);
  • ribosomal DNA

Contamination of shellfish with paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) toxins produced by Alexandrium species poses a potential threat to the sustainability of the Scottish aquaculture industry. Routine LM analysis of water samples from around the Scottish coast has previously identified Alexandrium (Dinophyceae) as a regular part of the spring and summer phytoplankton communities in Scottish coastal waters. In this study, Alexandrium tamarense (M. Lebour) Balech isolated from sediment and water samples was established in laboratory culture. Species identification of these isolates was confirmed using thecal plate dissections and by molecular characterization based on their LSU and, in some cases, ITS rDNA sequence. Molecular characterization and phylogenetic analysis showed the presence of two ribotypes of A. tamarense: Group I (North American ribotype) and Group III (Western European ribotype). Assessment of PSP toxin production using hydrophilic interaction liquid chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry (HILIC–MS/MS) showed that A. tamarense Group I produced a complex array of toxins (∼2,000 fg STX equivalents · cell−1) with the major toxins being C2, neosaxitoxin (NEO), saxitoxin (STX), gonyautoxin-4 (GTX-4), and GTX-3, while A. tamarense Group III did not produce toxins. Historically, it was considered that all Alexandrium species occurring in Scottish waters produce potent PSP toxins. This study has highlighted the presence of both PSP toxin-producing and benign species of A. tamarense and questions the ecological significance of this finding.