Science - January 27, 2005

Warning system for poison in shellfish

The Netherlands Institute for Fisheries Research (Rivo) will develop an early warning method for poisons in crustaceans together with Rikilt and ten other European partners.

This is one of the activities within the recently started Biotox project, financed by the EU to the tune of 5.5 million euros. Shellfish such as mussels and oysters are already checked regularly for the presence of toxins caused by algae. The poison biotoxin causes diarrhoea, but can also lead to paralysis, memory loss and even death. A number of people died from biotoxin poisoning in Canada a few years ago.

The Animal Sciences Group fisheries researchers want to develop a warning system based on gene expression so that the poisons in algae can be detected before they get into shellfish. At present Rivo and Rikilt check shellfish on a weekly basis. Areas of shellfish where poisons are suspected are closed until the poisons have disappeared. Checks are not only carried out through microscopic checks on algae, but also by feeding the shellfish to rats. The new project will make it no longer necessary to use rats and will also result in much more precise chemical measurements. / HB

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