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Ciguatera Assays Aim to Improve the Safety of Tropical Seafood

Published on: 05/21/2012
Region(s) of Study: Waterbodies / Gulf of Mexico

Researchers from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science developed effective, inexpensive molecular lab tests for field samples to detect algae responsible for a widespread seafood-borne illness. In this month’s Journal of Phycology, the scientists describe assays to detect and quantify six species of Gambierdiscus that cause ciguatera fish poisoning in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico.

The algae sicken people who eat top predator fish (usually sportfish popular with tourists) which concentrate the toxin by preying on small algae-grazing reef fish. The illness is difficult to diagnose and no tests are commercially available.

Ciguatera fish poisoning causes more human illness than all other harmful algal bloom species combined but there is no monitoring program on coral reefs to help detect it, and there is no effective treatment or antidote for it.

The toxin can’t be cooked out of the fish, so until there’s a test for toxins in the flesh, monitoring the reef for elevated numbers of Gambierdiscus cells is the only way to ensure safe seafood.

This is a separate testing protocol than theone NCCOS scientists taught to Latin American scientists last month.

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