Current Highlights of VIMS Pfiesteria Research


VIMS researchers have found that Pfiesteria shumwayae, a member of the toxic Pfiesteris complex (TPC), kills fish by feeding directly on their skin, not by releasing a potent toxin into the water, as has been widely reported.  The new research has important implications for scientists trying to understand the basic biology of Pfiesteria species and the possible tole these dinoflatellates may play in estuarine fish kills and fish-lesion events.

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VIMS researcher

In collaboration with colleagues at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, VIMS researchers have found that Pfiesteria shumwayae most likely lacks the molecular machinery needed to express a fish-killing toxin. Their findings raise important questions about whether a Pfiesteria toxin exists.


View the research article from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (pdf format)

Menhaden with skin ulcer VIMS researchers, in collaboration with colleagues at the National Fish Health Research Laboratory and the University of Stirling, have found that menhaden skin ulcers, typically attributed to Pfiesteria toxin, are instead caused by a highly pathogenic water mold called Aphanomyces invadans.


View the research article from the Journal of Aquatic Animal Health (pdf format)

Pfiesteria research at VIMS is directed toward understanding the biology and toxicity of Pfiesteria and Pfiesteria-like organisms (PLOs).  VIMS researchers study the relationships among PLOs, menhaden, Aphanomyces (a water mold), and the environmental conditions that modulate or contribute to fish-lesion and fish-kill events in East Coast estuaries.  Pfiesteria is a dinoflagellate widely blamed for adverse human health effects, acute fish kills, and skin-lesion events within coastal waters from Delaware to North Carolina.