Analytical Science news

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2 October 2019

International fellowships contribute to NZ seafood safety research

Cawthron Institute is hosting visiting scientists Dr Tomohiro Nishimura from Japan and Dr Muharrem Balci from Turkey as they work on research that supports the New Zealand Seafood Safety Research Platform.

Led by Dr Tim Harwood at Cawthron Institute, the New Zealand Seafood Safety Research Platform has positioned New Zealand as a world leader in the field of harmful algal bloom monitoring and marine toxin detection. This leadership allows Cawthron to collaborate with some of the world's best food safety experts.

Dr Nishimura and Dr Balci have been afforded the opportunity to further their research interests while working collaboratively at Cawthron thanks to fellowships granted by their home countries. Dr Nishimura is in New Zealand under the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Overseas Research Fellowship and is studying the mechanism of toxification in marine benthic organisms with diarrhetic shellfish toxin. Dr Balci is studying Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs), biotoxin producers, and biological toxins as part of a Scientific & Technological Research Council of Turkey fellowship programme.

The visiting scientists bring relevant expertise to the New Zealand Seafood Safety Research Platform and are pleased to be progressing research that will benefit New Zealand, Japan and Turkey.

Cawthron Molecular Ecologist Dr Kirsty Smith has been working with the visiting scientists and said it has been extremely rewarding to have them working at Cawthron as part of the Seafood Safety team.

“These exchanges have added, and will continue to bring, unique knowledge and skills to Cawthron and the research programme. It’s been a real privilege working with them both and I’m sure the relationships will continue for a long time into the future,” said Dr Smith.

Dr Nishimura has significant knowledge of the ciguatera-causing dinoflagellate Gambierdiscus. Toxins produced by Gambierdiscus are bioaccumulated in fish, posing a health risk to consumers. Dr Nishimura’s PhD research focused on this toxic dinoflagellate and involved an extensive survey in Japan. This is of interest to New Zealand because while Gambierdiscus is typically found in warmer locations, rising temperatures in our domestic waters means ciguatera is an emerging threat to industry and is now on the Seafood Safety team’s watchlist.

In addition to this background, Dr Nishimura also brings his experience with Prorocentrum; dinoflagellates known to produce Diarrhetic Shellfish Poisoning (DSP) toxin. Dr Nishimura is currently studying Prorocentrum diversity and DSP toxin contamination in herbivorous gastropods in the New Zealand context while at Cawthron.

“My study at Cawthron Institute will unveil the species diversity, distribution pattern, and toxin productions of Prorocentrum in the temperate and subtropical zones of New Zealand and some Pacific Islands,” says Dr Nishimura.

“We will be able to compare this to the results from my previous works regarding Prorocentrum in the temperate and subtropical zones of Japan. Comparisons between New Zealand and Japan will contribute to a detailed understanding of Prorocentrum in the Pacific Ocean.

“My work will help with evaluating DSP outbreak risks and screening in New Zealand waters, contributing to the aims of the Seafood Safety Research Platform to maintain New Zealand’s reputation for safe, premium quality seafood.”

Dr Nishimura’s tenure at Cawthron is the result of a fortuitous meeting of minds at an international conference. With prior knowledge of the Institute, he discussed his research interests with Cawthron Scientists Dr Lesley Rhodes and Dr Kirsty Smith and the ground was laid for future collaboration.

“Cawthron Institute is one of the greatest scientific institutes with expertise in fish and shellfish poisoning research worldwide and their scientists use cutting-edge techniques. I was impressed after reading their exciting research papers and wanted to be involved.

“I am really appreciative to the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) and the researchers who have made it possible for me to study at Cawthron,” said Dr Nishimura.

Also pleased to be collaborating with the team at Cawthron is Dr Balci from Istanbul University. Dr Balci brings his knowledge of harmful algae and cyanobacteria to his Cawthron-based work identifying new dinoflagellate species responsible for toxin production in New Zealand waters.

“While at Cawthron I have gained valuable experience in the molecular ecology of many harmful algal species and their toxicity. I have worked closely with the Seafood Safety team and our research will result in better early warning systems for future harmful algal events, supporting New Zealand’s important marine industries.

“Aquaculture is developing rapidly worldwide, and the research conducted at the Cawthron Institute is important for the sustainable management of natural resources and the realisation of an agricultural revolution at sea,” said Dr Balci.

Dr Balci has previously studied dinoflagellate resting cysts in marine sediments and their role in the establishment of harmful algal blooms in Greece and Turkey. In New Zealand, the marine toxin azaspiracid (AZA) has been detected in shellfish but the responsible dinoflagellate has not been identified. Dr Balci has focused on the dinoflagellates responsible for AZA production and this involved an extensive New Zealand survey.