The Surreal Killer

The Surreal Killer
Machu Picchu. Peru

Wednesday, April 10, 2013




A small slice of my real life day job that might be of interest to some of you.  I'll be teaching some of the lectures in this class next summer (winter in Uruguay).  Does anyone think this may give us some ideas and locales for another novel set in Montevideo?

Course and Workshop on Cyanotoxins in aquatic systems: Monitoring and analytical methods.

The course will review the current knowledge on the factors that determine the development of cyanobacterial blooms and their toxins (cyanotoxins) in aquatic systems, as well as the main environmental and health issues related to the problem. With this background, the available monitoring and analytical tools will be presented.   The basis for a better management of the phenomenon will be also discussed.

The approach is interdisciplinary and the course is aimed at students and researchers from different fields of knowledge (chemistry, biology, veterinary medicine, human medicine, etc).

Course objectives:

  • Provide background information on the biology and ecology of cyanobacteria
  • Understand the environmental factors that cause cyanobacterial blooms.
  • Learn different methodologies of monitoring and analysis of cyanotoxins and acquire practical skills to perform simple methods.
  • Risk evaluation for different water uses (water source for drinking, recreational use, productive activities, etc.).
  • Discuss simple methods for recognizing and risk evaluation of blooms
  • Getting together researchers from various disciplines for better understanding and management of the problem.

There will be 15 hours of lectures, 30 hours of practical exercises including field work, laboratory and a workshop for facilitating and exchange of experiences with national and international experts invited.

Maximum Number of Laboratory students: 15 (the lectures are open).
Total Class Hours: 45 hours
Approval: Attendance at 80% of the activities and a final examination.
Place: Facultad de Ciencias, Facultad de Química, Universidad de la  República, Montevideo, Uruguay

Date: 8 to 13 July 2013.



Course Topics

Lectures   (15 hours)
 • Cyanobacterial blooms: basic concepts on the biology and ecosystem effects of blooms, Production and biological role of toxins.
• Factors causing blooms (nutrient flux, hydrological, geological and climatic). Environmental consequences of blooms.
• Classification of toxins: Chemicals and stability properties. Toxicity.
• Environmental fate of toxins: adsorption, biodegradation, bioaccumulation. Exposure routes.
• Effects on human and animal health: symptoms, acute and chronic effects. Guidance values for water for different uses.
• Monitoring methodology for cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins. Bioindicators of potentially toxic cyanobacteria in the environment. Visual detection as a tool for managing and monitoring.
• Analytical methods for cyanotoxins: inmunoassays, chromatographic methods (HPLC; UV, MS), MALDI-TOF, molecular methods. Advantages and limitations.                                                                            

Practical Course   (30 hours)

Field work: sample extraction and in situ characterization of at least two ecosystems.


1. Determination of cyanobacteria: primary analysis of samples and exploratory counting.
2. Determination of pigments: chlorophyll a  (in vivo and by extraction) Fycocyanins in vivo.
3. Sample preparation for HPLC and immunoassays: clean up by solid phase extraction.
4. Chromatographic methods for microcystins:  HPLC-UV.
5. Detection and quantification of microcystins by immunological methods: ELISA
6. Chemical variants: identification by MALDI TOF.
7. Overall discussion of results and actions recommended according to the case.


Presentation and discussion of study cases, management plans, experimental data, and research in progress. International and regional experts invited.


  1. Wow, mind-blowing. If I need to know about toxins I know where to come. In another life before the Music Business and Writing I worked at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, and during that time the Ambassador to Montevideo was kidnapped and we spent an interesting and exciting time working whilst they tried to find him and free intrigued at your links. I shall pop back.

  2. Jane: Thank you for the comment. I'd like to hear more about that missing ambassador and how the episode turned out. How about a guest post for my blog?