Food safety for all: developing invertebrate models for monitoring phytoplankton toxicity in shellfish


Food safety for all: developing invertebrate models for monitoring phytoplankton toxicity in shellfish


Project Description


Dr Lucy Turner, University of Plymouth – Contact Me

Prof John Spicer, School of Biological and Marine Sciences – University of Plymouth

Dr Rowena Stern, Marine Biological Association

Prof Indrani Karunasagar, Nitte University, Nitte University Centre for Science Education and Research, Mangaluru, Karnataka, India

Scientific Background

Capture fisheries and aquaculture based seafood production is increasing to feed the world’s growing population, particularly in the global south. At the same time harmful algal blooms (HABs) are increasing in prevalence and severity worldwide in response to both climatic and non-climatic drivers (1). These HABs can have devastating impacts as the toxins produced by these algal species are bioaccumulated through the food chain. Eventually they may be ingested by humans, causing gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms, ultimately resulting in disablement and/or death. Consequently, in many developed countries there are rigorous food safety testing procedures in place for the commercial production of shellfish, e.g. bivalves, with chemical methods, such as HPLC-MS, now considered the ‘gold standard’. However, in many developing countries seafood-algal toxin testing is non-existent or tied to whole-animal mouse bioassay methods which have associated inaccuracy and ethical implications.

Project Description

The aim of this studentship is to develop a reliable and quick marine invertebrate model for seafood-algal toxicity testing (2) that can be adopted for use in less-developed and developing countries, removing the need for expensive, complicated analytical equipment and the increasingly ethically questionable mouse bioassay.


Based at the University of Plymouth, and in collaboration with the Marine Biological Association (MBA), and the Food Safety Group at the Weymouth Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) in the UK, the student will receive training in behavioural, ecophysiological, molecular, and analytical techniques. They will be used to correlate and quantify i) the response (3,4,5), and, ii) the intraspecific reproducibility of the response of the invertebrate model chosen to exposure to known concentrations of toxic algae. To further ensure inter- and intraspecific reproducibility, and relevance to developing countries, especially those bordering the Indian Ocean. The student will also spend time at Nitte University in Mangaluru, Karnataka, south-west India testing the methodology developed in a local Indian Ocean distributed amphipod species. A willingness to travel internationally is essential.


  • Gobler, C.J. (2020) Climate Change and Harmful Algal Blooms: Insights and perspective. Harmful Algae, 91, 101731.
  • Aylagas, E., et al. (2014) Evaluation of marine phytoplankton toxicity by application of marine invertebrate bioassays. Scientia Marina, 78, 173-183.
  • Turner, L.M., Havenhand, J.N., Alsterberg, C., Turner, A.D., Girisha, S.K., Rai, A., Venugopal, M.N., Karunasagar, I. & Godhe, A. (2019) Toxic algae silence physiological responses to multiple climate drivers in a tropical marine food chain. Frontiers in Physiology, 10, 373.
  • Collins, M., Truebano, M. & Spicer, J.I. (2022) Consequences of thermal plasticity for hypoxic performance in coastal amphipods. Marine Environmental Research, 177, 105624.
  • Calosi, P., Turner, L.M., Hawkins, M., Bertolini, C., Nightingale, G., Truebano, M. & Spicer, J.I. (2013) Multiple Physiological Responses to Multiple Environmental Challenges: An Individual Approach. Integrative and Comparative Biology 53, 660-670.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2023. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 19th May 2023.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£18,622 p.a. for 2023/24) and research funding. Please note that all international awards have been made for our programme for 2023 so we will not be accepting applications from international candidates,
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences, on top of all Research Costs associated with the project. Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses.
  • ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion in all areas of its operation. We encourage enquiries and applications from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and transgender status. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience, and our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past experience.
  • All ARIES studentships may be undertaken on a part-time or full-time basis, visa requirements notwithstanding
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor. To apply for this Studentship follow the instructions at the bottom of the page or click the 'apply now' link.
  • ARIES is required by our funders to collect Equality and Diversity Information from all of our applicants. The information you provide will be used solely for monitoring and statistical purposes; it will remain confidential, and will be stored on the UEA sharepoint server. Data will not be shared with those involved in making decisions on the award of Studentships, and will have no influence on the success of your application. It will only be shared outside of this group in an anonymised and aggregated form. You will be ask to complete the form by the University to which you apply.

Applications are open

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