Over several years, Northwest Indian College Professor John Rombold has received funding to stock his laboratory with state-of-the-art analytical equipment worth tens of thousands of dollars. In a chance meeting with Center scientist Dr. Kathi Lefebvre, Professor Rombold explained that he lacked trained personnel to operate the equipment. Instead of running samples, his shiny new High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) apparatus was only gathering dust.
It didn’t take long for Dr. Lefebvre to hit on the perfect solution. Why not have our experts, who use HPLC extensively to measure algal toxins in marine resources, train NWIC college students how to do the same thing?
On December 2, 2010, she and her team helped Professor Rombold’s science class finally dust off their apparatus and brush up their science skills in a new workshop, “Experience Algal Toxins (EAT) 2010.”
To kick off the workshop, Dr. Lefebvre delivered a lecture about the impact of domoic acid in the marine food web. Domoic acid is a neurotoxin produced by blooms of the algae Pseudo-nitzchia, and this toxin can then move up the food chain through ingestion by fish, shellfish, seabirds, and marine mammals. On the Washington Coast, shellfish in particular are an important subsistence food for many Pacific Northwest tribes, and outbreaks of these toxic algal blooms can result in beach closures, threaten human health, and devastate tribal economies.
Members of Dr. Lefebvre’s Wildlife Algal Toxin Research and Response Network (WARRN-West) and Biomedical Diagnostics Team then led students through a hands-on laboratory demonstration designed to teach techniques used to extract and measure domoic acid in shellfish and finfish samples. The course culminated in the students running their samples using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and calculating domoic acid levels in the samples.
The Center’s WARRN-West team — research biologist Dr. Elizabeth Frame, and research technicians Preston Kendrick and Keri Baugh — visited the Bellingham campus several times in preparation for the workshop. Team members set up, programmed, and tested the equipment to ensure the HPLC would be fully operational for measuring the algal toxins. After learning how to use a previously under-utilized tool, Professor Rombold’s students are eager to learn more.