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Researchers to try out Red Tide sensors

Associated Press
Published February 8, 2005


NAPLES - Researchers at the University of South Florida have been working on a biological sensor that would test waters off Florida for Red Tide, hoping to eventually track the harmful algae blooms.

The canister-like sensor being developed at the school's College of Marine Science in St. Petersburg would act as a minilaboratory that would analyze water and send data back to scientists on land, said Matt Smith, a USF molecular biologist.

The data would then be used to tell where the Red Tide is located. Smith said the launch of a prototype biological sensor is imminent.

"The ultimate goal is to have some predictive capability," said Mark Luther, director of the Alliance for Coastal Technologies at USF, "where it's going to happen before it happens."

Other Red Tide sensors depend on reading color, but the USF method will genetically test algae cells to determine not only that it is Red Tide but also which species.

The new instrument will sample water, filter it to isolate cells and then chemically break open the cells to get to the genetic material inside, Smith said.

Red Tide is formed when Karenia brevis , a microscopic algae, reproduces at an explosive rate, forming a bloom. Nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen are known to fuel Red Tide, which can cause breathing problems in people living near the coast.

Scientists recently expressed concern that an unseasonable Red Tide off southwest Florida could endanger migrating manatees.

The Red Tide, which formed in the Gulf of Mexico about 30 miles off Tampa Bay in early January, has moved nearer shore and south. It stretches from north of Anna Maria Isle south to Venice.

Red Tide normally occurs from August through September.

[Last modified February 8, 2005, 00:21:16]


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