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NCCOS Research Project

Fast Tool to Detect Toxic Shellfish

Primary Contact(s): pat.tester@noaa.gov
This project began in January 2002 and is Ongoing

The marine food source and livelihood of tribes and communities along the Pacific coast are threatened by Pseudo-nitzschia blooms that produce domoic acid, a potent neurotoxin. To provide remote communities an early monitoring tool, we developed an antibody-based test kit that detects the presence of domoic acid in shellfish in two hours. The test kit is now commercially available and is used in the United States, Canada, and France.

Why We Care
Coastal tribes and communities from California through Alaska depend on local harvest of clams and crabs as a food source and cash crop. They are particularly hard hit by domoic acid produced when Pseudo-nitzschia microalgae blooms along the Pacific coast. Domoic acid accumulates in the marine food chain in shellfish, crabs, and small fish and kills fish, birds, and marine mammals. People who eat contaminated shellfish may contract amnesic shellfish poisoning. Symptoms can include dizziness, disorientation, memory loss, seizures, paralysis, and even death. Losses for many coastal communities exceed $20 million annually. For the remote communities that rely on this harvest, there was no timely way to monitor for the toxin. Consequently, there was critical need for a rapid, cost-effective, and easy-to-use testing tool.

What We Are Doing
We worked in collaboration with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Mercury Science, Inc., to develop an antibody-based test kit (ELISA) for domoic acid that provides results in two hours. The test kit is now commercially available. It is used by the Quileute Tribe and Quinault Nation in Washington State to safeguard their food supply and by various environmental managers and public health officials in the United States, Canada, and France.

Next Steps
We are now developing a simplified kit that can be used in the field that will cut results time to 10 minutes. We will determine if the test kit is accurate enough for state authorities to determine opening or closing of shellfish beds.

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