MEPHY: Novel sensing tools to study synergic interaction between trace metals and phytoplankton

User group PI: Mary-Lou Tercier-Waeber, University of Geneva, Switzerland

Hosting infrastructure: COSYNA Stationary FerryBox system, Germany

Main Objectives

This project aims at synergising state of the art analytical sensing tools to monitor at high resolution a range of trace metals and phytoplankton and to examine if and how they are related.

Studies in culture media indicate that the interaction between some trace metals and plankton are reciprocal. Not only do the concentration and speciation of these trace metals control in part the growth of the phytoplankton, but in return plankton also regulates their concentration, chemical speciation and cycling. However, to deeper understand the impact of trace metals on the structure of the phytoplankton community and potentially harmful bloom, there is a strong need for more realistic investigations in a setting as close to the natural conditions as possible. In addition, there is increasing need in monitoring emerging contaminants in the marine environment, such as Platinum (Pt), a Technology-Critical Element increasingly used and released into coastal waters, where it is transferred to bivalves. Yet the role of phytoplankton in this contamination of the marine food chain is unknown.

For this purpose, we propose to apply novel, innovative sensing tools to:

  1. monitor simultaneously and in real-time the bioavailable fraction of trace metals and algal-bacterial species; and
  2. evaluate algae community potential toxicity.

The sensing tools that will be used are: an integrated multi-channel Trace Metal Sensing Module (TMSM); a miniature Algae Sensing Module (ASM); and a biosensor assay (BSA). These sensing tools enable respectively direct detection of the bioavailable fractions of Cu, Pb, Cd, Zn, As, Hg; optical detection of algal-bacterial species and identification of causative agents of harmful algal blooms; and multiparametric analysis of neuronal network activity. Recently developed voltammetric methods allow for reliable quantification of Pt dissolved in seawater and accumulated in (phyto-)plankton and will be applied for the first time to samples from the selected installation in parallel to the above mentioned parameters. Data collected with these new sensing tools will be coupled with ancillary measurements of master bio-physicochemical parameters; particulate, total and total dissolved metal concentrations; and major nutrients concentrations for a more exhaustive integrated environmental testing strategy provided by the sensors installed in the COSYNA_SFB or measured by the user partners when back to their laboratories.

The COSYNA_SFB infrastructure is ideally located for the proposed field activities, namely: in the German Southern North Sea coastal area characterized by frequent algal nuisance or toxic blooms and impacted by anthropogenic trace metals issued mainly from the Elbe river.

The MEPHY project will provide an original set of high-resolution data on metals, metal speciation-related measurements, and algae-bacteria community and toxicity for this economically/ecologically important marine coastal area. This set of unique data, coupled with the data set of the ancillary measurements, will be used to:

  1. assess bio-chemical processes which regulate transport and behavior of trace metals and nutrients in the Elbe plume;
  2. study potential relationships between micro- nutrients/pollutants (i.e. trace metals), macro-nutrients and phytoplankton community and diversity.

MEPHY will also provide valuable opportunity to further evaluate / validate the capability of the proposed innovative sensing tools to increase the sensing capability, in term of the number of parameters detected simultaneously, of present monitoring network infrastructures.