MARIABOX – Marine algal toxin sensor tested with SmartBay Galway

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A collaborative EU project to build biosensors to protect seawater from algal blooms

In our sea waters globally, there currently exists a myriad of hazardous pollutants, which can cause ecological and economical disasters, if left unobserved. Water pollution can occur from several sources, with one cause being from air pollution, whereby air pollutants can cross-contaminate exposed water sources, such as water ways and oceans, even further. Another possibility of cross-contaminant pollution can occur through land-based pollutions, which have leached into soils and silts from fields or construction sites, can run off into waterways damaging fish and wildlife habitats. These cross-contaminants may be caused by septic tanks, cars, trucks, and boats, plus larger sources, with common sources including farms, ranches, and forest areas.
It has been reported that up to 80% of water pollution, specifically within the sea, is suggested to be due to inland anthropogenic activities, whereby we, ourselves, are causing damage to the oceanic environments, which will also have a detrimental effect on our health and the way we live. Such water pollution can result in a number of problems; an example of such an issue would be the increased growth in algae due to eutrophication, which will resultantly cause a depletion of oxygen, and therefore creating an environment in which organisms can no longer survive in their natural environment. Industrial chemicals, which may enter the water ways and seas, may contaminate fisheries which could be later consumed by humans resulting in poisoning.

The MARIne environmental in situ Assessment and monitoring tool BOX (MARIABOX) is an FP7 EU-funded project tasked with the development of multiple analytical devices which could form a neural network for marine-based in-situ sensing of chemical and biological pollutants in seawater using novel biosensors. The main system included a long-term, deployable platform, suitable for installation on free-floating devices, buoys, ships or to be used as a portable instrument, encompassed with cloud based data collection and distribution. The novel platform uses microfluidic disks, which are capable of measuring eight analytes of interest; Microcystin, domoic acid, saxitoxin, azaspiracid, naphthalene, PFOA, camphechlor and heavy metals. The sensing device, is autonomous and capable of repeating measurements for a period of 6 months at sea. The sensor will collect data in real-time, through different channels according to local needs, and will transmit them to the appropriate authority through a cloud-based smart network. It will allow surveillance of high risk areas, as well as assist in strategy development for combating any contamination incidences which may occur. The algal toxins for which biosensors are deployed are Dinoflagellate, Cyanobacteria, Azadinium and Pseudo Nitzschia. The methods which the MARIABOX will use to analyze the samples are fluorescence correlation spectroscopy (FCS). These toxins are chosen as they are some of the top most prevalent and dangerous water contaminations currently found in water.

In this FP 7 EU funded project, DCU’s Dr. Jenny Fitzgerald and Ivan Maguire were tasked with the development of the microfluidic disks, which were capable of detecting the toxins in the samples and signaling that the toxins were present. Chemical samples are placed in the red area in the diagram below, the sample then transferred to the orange area which was the antibody mixing reservoir. From here it moves to the test reservoir and if the antibodies bound to it illuminate to show the presence of the toxin. The sample moves to the yellow area which acts as the control to show that the system works.

The MARIABOX is a multi-disciplinary project being carried out by a group of partners from CYRIC, ACORDE, Smart Bay Ltd., Sporegen, KONTOR 46, CNR Institute, University of Naples Frederico II, Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA), ATEKNEA, Institute of Marine Sciences, Signal Generix LTD, Dublin City University, and Ministry of agriculture, natural resources and environment of Cyprus. Deployments of the MARIABOX will take place in Alfacs Bay Spain, Galway Bay Ireland, Oslofjard Norway and Skagerrak and Vassilikos Bay Greece.

In Ireland, the MARIABOX is tested at the Smart Bay buoys in Galway Bay. This device will focus on testing algal pollutants and biomass detection. The aim of this deployment is to determine the platform of the MARIABOX sensing, data dissemination and altering capabilities to a real world aqua culture environment and asses its role as an early warning in situ director of potentially harmful toxins. It will be primarily used by fish farmers, mussel farmers and local environmental authorities and state agencies. In early November, disks were brought from DCU to SmartBay in order to calibrate the deployable systems.

In Cyprus, the MARIABOX will be deployed along with the SGX which is a low cost, energy efficient smart data buoy. The buoy is self-powered and can be deployed in completely isolated environments out at sea. This deployment will be used for water quality monitoring. It will be used to detect manmade and algae pollution levels that can enter the food chain. In Spain the MARIABOX will be installed in a bay which is influenced by a variety of natural and anthropogenic physical processes. The bay which it is being installed at also received inputs of fresh ground water. It will be used here to assess the effects of these processes and the quality of the water.

In Norway, the MARIABOX has been deployed by NIVA recently and it is on board the Oslo-Kiel Ferry MS Color Fantasy as part of the Ferry box system that has been installed aboard color line ferries in the Skagerrak and Oslo Ford area since 2001. The project delivers water quality data (temperature, salinity, oxygen, chl-a-fluoresce, turbidity, cDCM-fluorescence, phycocyanin-fluorescence, above water leaving radiance, down welling radiance and irradiance) for the inner and outer Oslo Ford. It is also used for testing and calibrating sensors and other surveillance systems. Through the existing stations, partners are able to access the annual monitoring data that allows comparisons between aqueous levels of contamination and contaminants found in mussels and films. The MARIABOX allows for the link between environmental monitoring and sea food safety at this deployment.

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