They may not be terrorists, but they can be sneaky--phytoplankton. These single-celled algae can sneak into nonindigenous harbors and coastal waters via ships' ballast water. Toxins from the phytoplankton can be taken up by shellfish and become harmful to humans who consume the shellfish.
Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are working to adapt the Laboratory's matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometry (MALDI-MS) technology to quickly and accurately identify the presence of toxic phytoplankton in ballast water and prevent its release into the wrong environment. The development of MALDI-MS for detecting and monitoring nonindigenous phytoplankton will address the U.S. Navy's need for a streamlined and cost-effective approach to assessing and managing microorganism transport in ballast water.
Future national security applications may include using MALDI to check cargo ship ballast water for phytoplankton and harmful bacteria.
The Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.