Research Areas and Sub-Specialties

Harmful Algal Blooms

Toxic phytoplankton currently being studiedThe phenomena called harmful algal blooms (HABs) are of major concern globally. Their occurrence, spread and frequency of duration has been increasing over the past decades. These microscopic species are capable of creating population explosions along with the production of bioactive compounds that can be highly toxic to humans, marine mammals, birds, fish and other components of the marine ecosystem. Studies of these species are essential in defining their impacts, predicting their potential occurrence and offering strategies as to minimize their damage. This problem touches various disciplines dealing with basic principals of ecology, plant physiology, toxin chemistry, pharmacology of toxins (effects of toxins on organisms), regulation of marine resources and direct human health effects. The toxins themselves, besides being highly potent Toxic phytoplankton currently being studiedpoisons are presently being studied as to their potential beneficial effects as part of the development of drugs from the sea. This biotechnology aspect offers hopes for new and exciting discoveries that can benefit mankind.

UNCW's Center for Marine Science has a specialized research group to study harmful algal bloom (HAB) or red tide species. Three faculty members, Dr. Daniel Baden (Depts. of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Biology and Marine Biology), Dr. Carmelo Tomas (Dept. of Biology and Marine Biology) and Dr. Jeffrey Wright (Dept. of Chemistry and Biochemistry) form the nucleus of a team called HABLAB. Dr. Tomas is responsible for the identification; ecology and physiology of species implicated in fish kill event, the isolation and cultivation of these species into clonal cultures and for studies dealing with their physiology and ecology. Dr. Baden studies the chemical structures of mainly polyether toxins Dinoflagellate Prorocentrum minimum(Florida Red Tide Toxins) and their pharmacological effects on animals and humans. His studies involve novel methods for the detection of these toxins and he is presently the leader of a multidisciplinary group studying the effects of Florida red tide toxins in humans. Dr. Wright, a structural chemist, works with natural products (toxins) from a number of organisms including algae and focuses on the structure and synthesis of these from algae, fungi and bacteria. Combined, these investigators teach courses in Biology and Chemistry, conduct funded research and supervise undergraduate and graduate students. Since the HAB problem cuts across various disciplines, the group has developed the capacity to go from the organism in the field, to clonal cultures and into separating, identifying and identifying molecules of the different toxins. Since the HAB problem appears to be increasing in frequency and expanding in extent, the need for talented trained personnel will be a priority for the foreseeable future. For more information, contact the Department of Biology and Marine Biology or any of the HABLAB faculty at the Center for Marine Science.


Faculty researching this area include:

Daniel Baden
Carmelo Tomas

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