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NCCOS Project

Sharing Simple and Fast Algal Toxin Detection Tests with Developing Countries

This project began in January 1998 and was completed in December 2013

Toxins produced by harmful algae accumulate in shellfish, causing human illness and marine animal mortalities. We have developed a rapid, cost-effective test that measures algal toxins in shellfish to protect consumers from exposure to contaminated shellfish. Our goal is to transfer this technology to developing countries in need of testing their shellfish for algal toxins prior to export or domestic consumption.

Why We Care
Harmful algal blooms and the toxins they produce have become an increasingly global problem over the past several decades. Scientists anticipate this threat to expand and intensify as HABs species are transported via ships’ ballast water and their subsequent growth responds to increasing nutrient input and ocean temperature. Developing countries face negative economic impacts (e.g., reduced aquaculture development, mass mortalities of farmed species, and loss of export income) and public health effects (e.g., contaminated fishery products and local avoidance of seafood by consumers) caused by algal toxins. These countries need reliable, easy-to-use, and cost-effective detection methods to monitor algal toxins in seafood.

Providing technologies to address this critical need falls within NOAA’s mission to understand and predict changes in oceans and coasts and to share this knowledge and information with others.

What We Did
Since 1998, the United Nations, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has supported us to serve as technical experts on eleven projects involving 27 countries. We transfer and implement the receptor binding assay (RBA) using radioisotopes for detecting and measuring algal toxins. As part of the IAEA’s effort to use radioisotopes for peacetime purposes and specifically for coastal zone management applications, we have conducted ten international training courses and hosted five training fellowships for transferring the RBA technology. The RBA for paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) toxins has currently been accepted as an Official Method of Analysis by the Association of Official Analytical Chemists (AOAC) following a rigorous, international interlaboratory validation trial.

Benefits of Our Work
The AOAC’s acceptance of this method has confirmed the suitability of the RBA for toxin determination as applied to ensure the safety of shellfish products for human consumption in export and domestic markets. Countries adopting this cost-effective and reliable technology will benefit through increased economic growth and public health protection.

Next Steps
The IAEA and NOAA finalized a five year Practical Agreement in 2010 under authority of the Coastal Zone Management Act and the Oceans and Human Health Act. We will continue to support the transfer of RBA technology to developing countries and provide technical guidance on implementing the assays, undertake collaborative research projects with countries using the RBA, and participate in joint efforts to ensure the supply of essential reagents.

We are currently involved in five active IAEA projects and have conducted three training courses (Kenya, El Salvador, Costa Rica) in 2011 and one in 2012 (Charleston, SC). We also conducted an expert site visit to begin the newest project in Oman.

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