The Surreal Killer

The Surreal Killer
Machu Picchu. Peru

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Nexus of Fiction and Reality

In "The Ambivalent Corpse" and in my upcoming (Summer, 2012) novel "The Matador Murders", we meet a character named Andrea, a scientist at the University of the Republic in Montevideo, who is studying affordable methods for the analysis of the microcystins, a family of toxins produced in rivers, estuaries, and lakes by various species of blue-green algae.  She also gets mentioned in some of my other blogs.  Her character is based on a real scientist studying these algal toxins in Uruguay who I've been collaborating with for more than a decade.  So, what's real and what's fiction?  Let me give you a few hints; these are references to, and abstracts from, actual scientific papers published in the peer-reviewed literature that I have copied from Pub Med:

1.  From Brena et al., (2006). ITREOH Building of Regional Capacity to Monitor Recreational Water:  Development of a Non-commercial Microcystin ELISA and Its Impact on Public Health Policy. INT J OCCUP ENVIRON HEALTH 12:377–385.

ABSTRACT: In 2001, a University of California, Davis–University of the Republic, Montevideo, partnership created a Fogarty ITREOH program to exploit the potential of ELISA to provide a low-cost environmental analysis attractive to economically distressed countries of temperate South America. This paper describes the development and validation of an ELISA method for the determination of Cyanobacteria microcystin toxins in algal blooms, which release hepatotoxic metabolites that can reach toxic levels in rivers, lakes, or coastal estuaries used for recreation or water supplies. The assay made possible the first systematic monitoring of water from the Rio de la Plata at Montevideo over two summers. The project has been integrated into a bi-national [Uruguay-Argentina] effort to monitor the Rio de la Plata.

2. From Brena et al., (2006). ELISA as an Affordable Methodology for Monitoring Groundwater Contamination by Pesticides in Low-Income Countries. Environ. Sci. Technol. 39, 3896-3903.

The traditional instrumental technology for pesticide residue analysis is too expensive and labor-intense to meet the regional needs concerning environmental monitoring. ELISA methodology was used for a pilot scale study of groundwater quality in an agricultural region a few kilometers southwest of Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay. The study spanned 2 years and examined concentrations (detection limits are given in [ppb]) of two triazine herbicides (simazine [0.3] and atrazine [0.4]) and the carbamate insecticide carbaryl and its major metabolite 1-naphthol. In general, pesticide concentrations were below detection limits in the samples tested and in all cases were well below the maximum contaminant levels set by the U.S. EPA. 1-Naphthol was detected frequently by ELISA, but the assay may have tended to systematically overestimate this analyte. To our knowledge, this is the first study of its type in Uruguay and perhaps the first systematic approach to monitoring for organic pesticides in groundwater sources in the temperate region of South America.

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