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PLoS One. 2011 Mar 3;6(3):e17699. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017699.

New approach using the real-time PCR method for estimation of the toxic marine dinoflagellate Ostreopsis cf. ovata in marine environment.

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  • 1Department of Biomolecular Sciences, University of Urbino, Pesaro, Italy.



We describe the development and validation of a new quantitative real time PCR (qrt-PCR) method for the enumeration of the toxic benthic dinoflagellate Ostreopsis cf. ovata in marine environment. The benthic Ostreopsis sp. has a world-wide distribution and is associated during high biomass proliferation with the production of potent palytoxin-like compounds affecting human health and environment. Species-specific identification, which is relevant for the complex of different toxins production, by traditional methods of microscopy is difficult due to the high morphological variability, and thus different morphotypes can be easily misinterpreted.


The method is based on the SYBR I Green real-time PCR technology and combines the use of a plasmid standard curve with a "gold standard" created with pooled crude extracts from environmental samples collected during a bloom event of Ostreopsis cf. ovata in the Mediterranean Sea. Based on their similar PCR efficiencies (95% and 98%, respectively), the exact rDNA copy number per cell was obtained in cultured and environmental samples. Cell lysates were used as the templates to obtain total recovery of DNA. The analytical sensitivity of the PCR was set at two rDNA copy number and 8.0×10(-4) cell per reaction for plasmid and gold standards, respectively; the sensitivity of the assay was of cells g(-1) fw or 1(-1) in macrophyte and seawater samples, respectively. The reproducibility was determined on the total linear quantification range of both curves confirming the accuracy of the technical set-up in the complete ranges of quantification over time.


We developed a qrt-PCR assay specific, robust and high sample throughput for the absolute quantification of the toxic dinoflagellate Ostreopsis cf. ovata in the environmental samples. This molecular approach may be considered alternative to traditional microscopy and applied for the monitoring of benthic toxic microalgal species in the marine ecosystems.

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