'Quick kit' for algal toxins in development


Lindsey Partos, SeafoodSource contributing editor, reporting from Paris

Published on
September 22, 2009

 The development of a "quick kit" to test for algal toxins in shellfish is moving forward, with trials now underway in Ireland and Scotland.

The EUR 1.6 million (USD 2.4 million) project is led by Dr. Robin Raine of the Martin Ryan Marine Institute in Ireland.

"A rapid turnaround in data can be very useful to [shellfish] producers," Raine told SeafoodSource. "The project aims to demonstrate that producers could turn up with their shellfish at a local laboratory and carry out the analysis with ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) kits, without having to send away for testing."

An immuno assay procedure, the standard test using the ELISA kit, isn't expensive, said Raine, with individual tests costing about EUR 10 (USD 14.79).
According to scientists, algal blooms can occur when naturally occurring algae species in plankton rapidly increase in number. Some algae species are toxic when a bloom occurs, which, in turn, can be ingested by shellfish.

The European shellfish industry currently uses the European Commission-sanctioned test, the mouse bioassay method, to detect the presence of toxins in bivalves, such as oysters, clams and mussels, that could be harmful to consumers. However, many in the shellfish industry — notably French oyster farmers — have criticized the mouse test as outdated and slow. Results of the test are received several days after the sample is entered for analysis, which means shellfish remains on the market until the results are available.
"A rapid first turnaround of data is useful to the producers. This also offers benefits to the shellfish processors who need to rapidly know about the quality of their stock," said Raine. "The response has been really, really positive from producers."
Predicting the occurrence of harmful algal blooms is "extremely important," to minimize the damaging economic effects on the shellfish industry, said Raine.

Providing an alternative, local detection test could save time and money for the industry. A laboratory in the Faeroe Islands already has the capacity to use the ELISA kits, but to sell to the European market, Faroes producers must send their samples to Copenhagen to conduct the accredited analysis, explained Raine.

Called "Warning of Algal Toxin Events to Support Aquaculture in the Northern Periphery Programme Coastal Zone Region," the project runs through the end of 2011 and involves testing in numerous regions, including Ireland, western Scotland and the Faeroe Islands.
Food safety agencies from Scotland, Ireland and the Faroes have been on board since the project's beginning, said Raine. Project partners are Seafood Shetland, Marine Scotland, Scottish Association for Marine Science, NAFC Marine Centre, National University of Ireland-Galway, Faroese Fish Laboratory in Torshavn and Institute of Marine Research in Bergen.

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