Document Type


Publication Date




Publication Title

Environmental Health Perspectives




Supplement 5




In the absence of purified standards of toxins from Pfiesteria species, appropriately conducted fish bioassays are the "gold standard" that must be used to detect toxic strains of Pfiesteria slop. from natural estuarine water or sediment samples and to culture actively toxic Pfiesteria. In this article, we describe the standardized steps of our fish bioassay as an abbreviated term for a procedure that includes two sets of trials with fish, following the Henle-Koch postulates modified for toxic rather than infectious agents. This procedure was developed in 1991, and has been refined over more than 12 years of experience in research with toxic Pfiesteria. The steps involve isolating toxic strains of Pfiesteria (or other potentially, as-yet-undetected, toxic Pfiesteria or Pfiesteria-like species) from fish-killing bioassays with natural samples; growing the clones with axenic algal prey; and retesting the isolates in a second set of fish bioassays. The specific environmental conditions used (e.g., temperature, salinity, light, other factors) must remain flexible, given the wide range of conditions from which natural estuarine samples are derived. We present a comparison of information provided for fish culture conditions, reported in international science journals in which such research is routinely published, and we provide information from more than 2,000 fish bioassays with toxic Pfiesteria, along with recommendations for suitable ranges and frequency of monitoring of environmental variables. We present data demonstrating that algal assays, unlike these standardized fish bioassays, should not be used to detect toxic strains of Pfiesteria spp. Finally, we recommend how quality control/assurance can be most rapidly advanced among laboratories engaged in studies that require research-quality isolates of toxic Pfiesteria spp.

Original Publication Citation

Burkholder, J.M., Marshall, H.G., Glasgow, H.B., Seaborn, D.W., & Deamer-Melia, N.J. (2001). The standardized fish bioassay procedure for detecting and culturing actively toxic Pfiesteria, used by two reference laboratories for Atlantic and Gulf Coast states. Environmental Health Perspectives, 109, 745-756. doi: 10.2307/3454922