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Keywords:

  • qPCR;
  • ciguatera;
  • Gambierdiscus belizeanus;
  • Gambierdiscus caribaeus;
  • Gambierdiscus carolinianus;
  • Gambierdiscus carpenteri;
  • Gambierdiscus ruetzleri;
  • Gambierdiscus ribotype 2;
  • SYBR green

Ciguatera fish poisoning (CFP) is a serious health problem in tropical regions and is caused by the bioaccumulation of lipophilic toxins produced by dinoflagellates in the genus Gambierdiscus. Gambierdiscus species are morphologically similar and are difficult to distinguish from one another even when using scanning electron microscopy. Improved identification and detection methods that are sensitive and rapid are needed to identify toxic species and investigate potential distribution and abundance patterns in relation to incidences of CFP. This study presents the first species-specific, semi-quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) assays that can be used to address these questions. These assays are specific for five Gambierdiscus species and one undescribed ribotype. The assays utilized a SYBR green format and targeted unique sequences found within the SSU, ITS, and the D1/D3 LSU ribosomal domains. Standard curves were constructed using known concentrations of cultured cells and 10-fold serial dilutions of rDNA PCR amplicons containing the target sequence for each specific assay. Assay sensitivity and accuracy were tested using DNA extracts purified from known concentrations of multiple Gambierdiscus species. The qPCR assays were used to assess Gambierdiscus species diversity and abundance in samples collected from nearshore areas adjacent to Ft. Pierce and Jupiter, Florida USA. The results indicated that the practical limit of detection for each assay was 10 cells per sample. Most interestingly, the qPCR analysis revealed that as many as four species of Gambierdiscus were present in a single macrophyte sample.