Ruth Flora Paterson

        Photo of PhD student Ruth Paterson at SAMS UHI

PhD student

I am a final year PhD student working on molecular detection of toxin-producing microalgae off the Scottish coast. I am passionate about applied research and never losing touch with the big picture. I’m always ready to get my hands dirty in the field or the laboratory. In my spare time I play squash, go running, read voraciously, teach yoga or meet with friends.

Contact details:

Understanding the distribution and seasonal dynamics of Azadinium in Scottish waters using qPCR

My PhD project involves testing and applying a molecular method to detect toxic-producing microalgae on the Scottish west coast, particularly in shellfish producing areas. Some species of phytoplankton produce potent biotoxins, which become concentrated within shellfish flesh as the molluscs filter feed.

I am particularly interested in a single species, Azadinium spinosum, which was only described in 2009. The species is known to produce azaspiracids (AZA) which causes Azaspiracid Shellfish Poisoning in humans. There is a risk of AZA toxicity in Scottish shellfish in the future, therefore monitoring techniques must be improved to protect both consumer health and the Scottish seafood industry.

I have conducted the first environmental survey for A. spinosum in Scotland and have worked with cells in the laboratory to understand their growth, and toxin production, under typical Scottish conditions. My thesis will provide significant gains to knowledge about the use of molecular probes in the field and the biogeography/ ecology of this species.

Related reading

Davidson, K., Bresnan, E., 2009. Shellfish toxicity in UK waters: a threat to human health? Environ. Heal. 8 Suppl 1, S12. doi:10.1186/1476-069X-8-S1-S12

Hess, P., Twiner, M.J., Kilcoyne, J., Sosa, S., 2015. Azaspiracid Toxins: Toxicological Profile, in: Gopalakrishnakone, P., Haddad, V., Kem, W.R., Tubaro, A., Kim, E. (Eds.), Marine and Freshwater Toxins. Springer, pp. 1–19. doi:10.1007/978-94-007-6650-1_20-1

Tillmann, U., Elbrächter, M., Krock, B., John, U., Cembella, A., 2009. Azadinium spinosum gen. et sp. nov. (Dinophyceae) identified as a primary producer of azaspiracid toxins. Eur. J. Phycol. 44, 63–79. doi:10.1080/09670260802578534

Toebe, K., Joshi,  a. R., Messtorff, P., Tillmann, U., Cembella,  a., John, U., 2012. Molecular discrimination of taxa within the dinoflagellate genus Azadinium, the source of azaspiracid toxins. J. Plankton Res. 35, 225–230. doi:10.1093/plankt/fbs077


Professor Keith Davidson (SAMS)

Dr David Green (SAMS)

Dr Eileen Bresnan (Marine Scotland Science)

Dr Jean-Pierre Lacaze (Marine Scotland Science)


Scottish Association for Marine Science

Natural Environment Research Council

Foods Standards Scotland

Marine Scotland Science


University of Aberdeen

Peer-reviewed publications

Paterson, R.F., McNeill, S., Mitchell, E., Adams, T., Swan, S.C., Clarke, D., Miller, P.I., Bresnan, E., Davidson, K., 2017. Environmental control of harmful dinoflagellates and diatoms in a fjordic system. Harmful Algae 69, 1–17. doi:10.1016/j.hal.2017.09.002

Moschonas, G., Gowen, R.J., Paterson, R.F., Mitchell, E., Stewart, B.M., McNeill, S., Glibert, P. M., Davidson, K. (2017) Nitrogen dynamics and phytoplankton community structure: the role of organic nutrients. Biogeochemistry. doi:10.1007/s10533-017-0351-8

Conference talks

Paterson, R. F., Davidson, K., Green, D., Bresnan, E., Lacaze, J. P. Too small to see: Using qPCR to monitor azaspiracid producer Azadinium spinosum in Scottish waters. Talk presented at: 17th International Conference on Harmful Algae; 2016 9-15th October; CentroSul Convention Centre, Florianópolis, Brazil.

Swan, S. C., Turner, A., Paterson, R. F., Bresnan, E., Davidson, K. An unusual bloom of Dinophysis acuta in Scottish coastal waters linked to a change in diarrhetic shellfish toxin profiles. Talk presented at: 17th International Conference on Harmful Algae; 2016 9-15th October; CentroSul Convention Centre, Florianópolis, Brazil.

Paterson, R. F., Davidson, K., Green, G., Bresnan, E., Lacaze, J. P. Keeping Shellfish Safe: New technologies to help protect consumers of culturing shellfish from toxic algae (Azadinium spinosum and azaspiracids) in Scottish waters. Talk presented at: Challenger Society Conference, 2016 5-8th September; Liverpool University.

Paterson, R. F., Davidson, K., Green, G., Bresnan, E., Lacaze, J. P. Working towards cell monitoring of toxic dinoflagellate Azadinium spinosum in Scottish coastal regions. Talk presented at: British Phycological Society; 2016 22-24th June, Bournemouth University.

Poster presentations

Paterson, R. F., Green, D., Davidson, K., Tillmann, U. Unexplained cyst-like cells in laboratory cultures of Azadinium spinosum. Poster presented at: 16th International Conference on Harmful Algae; 2014 27th-31st October; Wellington, New Zealand.

Teaching experience

Demonstrating on phytoplankton-based field sampling and identification courses for undergraduates.

Overseeing OHS work experience students on RV Seòl Mara.


Fieldwork experience

Carried out a multibeam survey of bathymetry in Loch Etive

Coring and sediment grabs of methane-seeps (pockmarks) in Loch Etive

Assisting a year of phytoplankton and nutrient sampling in Loch Creran and Lynn of Lorne aboard RV Seòl Mara

Carried out a year of phytoplankton sampling in Loch Creran for my PhD project

Inshore cruise-work on the Shelleye project to ( ground-truth harmful algal bloom monitoring satellites


Public engagement experience

Development of a bespoke designer scarf collection and science outreach package with Crubag textile designs, inspired by harmful algal blooms. Funded by the International Society for the Study of Harmful Algae.


Media coverage

(2007) Scottish research reveals feeding habits of toxic alga

(2012) Ground-breaking research earns Ruth SAMS UHI student of the year accolade


Professional memberships

International Society for the Study of Harmful Algae

Royal Society of Biology (AMRSB)

British Phycological Society

Challenger Society


Professional training courses

Sea Survival Training

RYA Powerboat Levels 1&2

RYA Young Sailor Courses Levels 1,2 & 3

Introduction to Ecosystem Modelling using Ecopath and Ecosim

Analysis of Multivariate Data from Ecology and Environmental Science using PRIMER

Explore Statistics with R

Making Your Research Matter – How to Influence Policymakers


2013 BSc (Hons) Marine Science - first class. University of the Highlands and Islands