Northwest Fisheries Science Center

Launch of new biosensor picks up Heterosigma in Puget Sound

Portable water laboratory uses DNA technology to detect water-borne bacteria and harmful algae

Until now, predictive tools to forecast dangerous algal blooms or pathogens that can contaminate shellfish in Puget Sound weren’t available. With the first launch of a novel biosensor—dubbed the ESP—in the Pacific Northwest in June 2012, NWFSC scientists are able to provide advanced warning of potentially dangerous outbreaks.

The biosensor, called the ESP (Environmental Sample Processor), is part of an integrated system that combines weather forecasts and an existing citizen monitoring network called SoundToxins. Advanced warning of toxic algal blooms or pathogens can help shellfish growers and public health officials better prepare for beach closures and mitigate economic impacts.

On June 8, NWFSC scientists and colleagues launched the ESP from the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories. Within a short time, scientists got a hit for Heterosigma, a fish-killing algae in Puget Sound and one of the target organisms for this deployment. Scientists also detected Alexandrium and Pseudo-nitzschia pseudodelicatissima, other toxic algal species, but more information is needed to calculate their concentrations in Puget Sound.

Scientists have programmed the ESP to sample waters each day at 10 am until July 22. Stay tuned on this project and more on our Facebook page, NOAA Fisheries in the Northwest.

Learn more about the ESP by checking out our fact sheet and YouTube video. The ESP was purchased with funding from NOAA’s Oceans and Human Health Initiative, and was first developed by microbiologist Chris Scholin and his team at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

  • NWFSC’s Science Director with the ESP
    NWFSC’s Science Director with the ESP prior to its first launch in the Pacific Northwest from the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratory.