Bioluminescence is reported in members of 18 dinoflagellate genera. Species of dinoflagellates are known to have different bioluminescent signatures, making it difficult to assess the presence of particular species in the water column using optical tools, particularly when bioluminescent populations are in nonbloom conditions. A "universal" oligonucleotide primer set, along with species and genus-specific primers specific to the luciferase gene were developed for the detection of bioluminescent dinoflagellates. These primers amplified luciferase sequences from bioluminescent dinoflagellate cultures and from environmental samples containing bioluminescent dinoflagellate populations. Novel luciferase sequences were obtained for strains of Alexandrium cf. catenella (Whedon et Kof.) Balech and Alexandrium fundyense Balech, and also from a strain of Gonyaulax spinifera (Clap. et Whitting) Diesing, which produces bioluminescence undetectable to the naked eye. The phylogeny of partial luciferase sequences revealed five significant clades of the dinoflagellate luciferase gene, suggesting divergence among some species and providing clues on their molecular evolution. We propose that the primers developed in this study will allow further detection of low-light-emitting bioluminescent dinoflagellate species and will have applications as robust indicators of dinoflagellate bioluminescence in natural water samples.



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