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New device tests shellfish for sickness-causing toxins

Twenty-minute results mean tainted shellfish can be discarded before ever making it to shore.

By Brooks Hays
New device tests shellfish for sickness-causing toxins
Freshly caught shellfish can be quickly tested for sickness-causing toxins using a new device. Photo by Thawornnurak/Shutterstock

BELFAST, Northern Ireland, Sept. 30 (UPI) -- For some unlucky eaters, the presence of marine toxins in mussels, clams, shrimp and other shelled seafood causes diarrhetic shellfish poisoning.

A new device promises to more efficiently and quickly detect the presence of such toxins and prevent sickness-causing shellfish from making it to the kitchen.

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The device, designed by a team of diagnostics scientists from the U.S. and Europe, tests for the presence of okadaic acid (OA) and dinophysis toxins, which are produced by some algal blooms and absorbed by filter-feeding shellfish.

To protect consumers from tainted shellfish, regulators require samples from fishermen's hauls to be sent away and tested at labs with specialized diagnostic equipment. The new device, however, is small, portable and offers instant results, enabling shellfish to be tested on the spot -- whether on a fishing boat or at the docks.

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The device's development was led by researcher Waqass Jawaid, a scientists with diagnostics company Neogen Europe Limited and Queen's University's Institute for Global Food Security.

In a press release, Jawaid and his colleagues promised their new mobile device "maintained the rigorous testing standards of off-site labs."

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Researchers say the device works like a pregnancy test using an antibody that binds and reacts to the presence of three common okadaic acid toxins. The technology is called a lateral flow immunoassay (LFIA). Twenty-minute results mean shellfish with positive tests can be discarded before ever making it to shore.

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"If the LFIA readout is negative, then an additional, easy-to-use test could be conducted dockside for 'total toxins,' which would include detection of a fourth type of OA," researchers explained.

The new device is detailed in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry.

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