UF Aquatic Pathobiology Laboratory

Identifying Molecular Impacts in Manatees from Algal Toxin Blooms in Florida from 2012 – 2013

This work is being conducted by Becky Lazensky, PhD student, in Dr. Nancy Deslow’s laboratory

The goal of this research project is to investigate two large-scale manatee mortality episodes using several molecular approaches. By examining variations in gene expression patterns in toxin exposed and non-exposed manatee populations, the study researchers aim to identify gene expression signatures for use in future diagnostic assays. The first manatee mortality episode in 2013 was centered near Fort Myers, Florida (Lee County) along the Caloosahatchee River, which is a refugee area for manatees. The second mortality episode occurred in the Indian River Lagoon after a brown tide algal bloom led to the depletion of seagrass, a food staple of manatees, causing them to feed on an alternate species of Gracilaria seagrass, which was coated in an unidentified algal toxin referred to as red drift algae. By examining variations in gene expression patterns researchers seek to identify which biochemical pathways were impacted in algal toxin-exposed manatees to determine how toxins may have caused the unexplained manatee mortalities.