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Rapid Screening Mass Spectrometry for Detection of Marine Toxins in Aquatic Food Sources

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  • Full or part time
    Dr S Maher
    Dr I Young
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description


This is a project within the multi-disciplinary EPSRC and ESRC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) on Quantification and Management of Risk & Uncertainty in Complex Systems & Environments, within the Institute for Risk and Uncertainty. The studentship is granted for 4 years and includes, in the first year, a Master in Decision Making under Risk & Uncertainty. The project includes extensive collaboration with prime industry to build an optimal basis for employability.

Providing the world’s growing populations with a sustainable supply of safe, nutritious, and affordable food with reduced input requirements is a major challenge. Aquatic food sources, either produced through aquaculture activity or caught from wild marine or freshwater stocks, are a primary source of protein and essential nutrients, and there is a growing recognition of their nutritional and health promoting qualities. They represent a significant contribution of nutritious animal protein to millions of people all over the world with fish being one of the most efficient converters of feed into high quality food.

Marine toxins are produced as secondary metabolites by bacteria and microalgae such as diatoms, cyanophyceae and inoflagellates. Changes in environmental conditions pose significant risk for the appearance of harmful algae blooms associated with the production of toxic compounds. These can be accumulated through the marine food chain causing contamination to aquatic food sources which can result in food poisoning with various neurological and gastrointestinal affects. For example, under current EU regulations the probability of exceeding the acute reference dose when consuming any portion of shellfish available on the European market is as high as 20% for the marine biotoxin okadaic acid. Current quality control measures are either time consuming and expensive (pre-separation techniques) or yield high variability with insufficient detection capability (mouse bioassays). More accurate measurement procedures based on solid-phase extraction followed by gas chromatography or liquid chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry are used in the identification and quantification of such toxins. While these analytical methods have proven successful in the analysis of marine toxins they require complex and time consuming preparative steps. Moreover, these methods are limited by the need for manual transfer of samples to the laboratory before analysis. Therefore, there is a strong interest in rapid in situ screening methods that are reliable and require no/little sample preparation, yet provide specific information regarding the identification and quantitation of marine toxins in aquatic food sources.

This PhD will investigate the use of new ambient ionisation techniques with mass spectrometry as a means of performing rapid analysis from untreated samples, in ambient conditions outside the vacuum environment of the mass spectrometer. This will involve development of novel ambient sampling procedures and ionisation methodologies for selective ionisation of marine toxins from aquatic samples.

Funding Notes

The PhD Studentship (Tuition fees + stipend of £ 13,726 annually over 4 years) is available for Home/EU students. In addition, a budget for use in own responsibility will be provided.

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