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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Field Operational Sensor and Lab-on-a-Chip System for Marine Environmental Monitoring and Analysis

  • Author(s): Liu, Mike;
  • Sabet, Leyla;
  • Schnetzer, Astrid;
  • Stauffer, Beth;
  • Caron, David;
  • Ho, Chih-Ming;
  • Tai, Yu-Chong
  • et al.

This is a project that aims to expedite research in marine biology using chip-based and state-of-the-art detection technology. The project is a joint effort that will incorporate the expertise of three different groups, Dr. Chih-Ming Ho at UCLA, Dr. David Caron at USC and Dr. Yu-Chong Tai at Caltech. One main focus of the project is to develop Lab-on-a-chip devices that reduce total sample volume and detection time. Also, the chips can be fabricated in large quantities with minimal cost so many experiments can be run in parallel. Here at Caltech, a chip will be developed to culture a small number of algae and screen for factors inducing toxin production. Algal bloom and toxins produced by different algae have always caused problems to the environment and marine ecology. Pseudo-nitzschia is one type of algae that produces a neural toxin called Domoic Acid, which when transferred through the food chain causes sickness and mortality in marine mammals and seabirds. However, during Pseudo-nitzschia bloom, Domoic Acid is not always produced. In another word, growth of algae does not equal Domoic Acid production. Studies done by other groups have suggested that many factors (such as trace metal, macronutrient, or ionic concentration) might induce or suppress algae to produce toxin. Yet, exact causes are unclear. To completely elucidate the causes of toxin production, many potential compounds will have to be screened. This leads to an enormous amount of experiments to be performed and large quantity of reagents and cells to be used. To speed up the process of screening for possible factors inducing toxin production, we would like to make a chip to culture Pseudo-nitzschia under different growing conditions. At the same time, an Ultra Sensitive Electrochemical Sensor will be developed for detection of Domoic Acid at Dr. Chih-Ming Ho’s lab at UCLA. The current state-of-the-art detection technology indicates that per cell toxin load may range over 2 or 3 orders of magnitude but its sensitivity is limited since a sample size of at least 100 cells/mL is required. The new sensor will be able to push the sensitivity to 10 cells/mL or to even single molecules of Domoic Acid. This sensor will not only enable the detection of Domoic Acid produced by algae cells inside the culture chip, such sensor will also have the broad application of detecting Domoic Acid from field samples.

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