Queen Elizabeth II Technicians’ Study Award winner spends time at SIMS


The New Zealand Ministry of Education
allocates the Queen Elizabeth II Technicians’ Study Award annually.
 The award provides
funding for training in another Commonwealth country to further the careers of technicians who in turn bring that learning back to New Zealand. 


This year, in conjunction with the
University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Joshua Fitzgerald was able to spend seven weeks working with
SIMS in the Marine Microbial Biotoxins Facility to screen a selection of microalgae for Ciguatoxins (CTXs). CTXs are potent
marine toxins produced by some species of microalgae found in tropical reef systems. The toxins are
problematic as they bio-magnify up the food chain causing ciguatera fish
poisoning when contaminated fish are consumed by  humans. 


The key feature of this award was the
unique analytical instrumentation at SIMS, an Orbitrap Liquid
Chromatography Mass Spectrometer (LCMS). What is particularly special about
this instrument is its ability to differentiate target analytes and determine
elemental composition.


The Cawthorn Institute was able to provide
the intellectual property to develop a screening method for the LCMS instrument
which can now be used to detect several of the many diverse CTX analogues.


The instrument’s high-resolution accurate
mass ability allows for differentiation of target analytes from a background of
coeluting compounds. Ions of interest are often suppressed as the sample matrix
contributes background ions resulting in poor resolution between background
signal and target analyte leading to non-detection of low concentration target


The short time frame of the award meant the
greatest achievements were made at a more personal level, with Joshua appreciating the
challenges of method development and the value of the collaborative environment of SIMS. However,
one of the biggest successes was demonstrating the LCMS’ ability to detect CTXs
and determine structural information. This will be useful and complimentary to
the ongoing work at The Cawthron Institute.