Marine biotoxins

Marine biotoxins are produced by certain algae species and can accumulate in filter feeding shellfish such as mussels, scallops and oysters. Consumption of contaminated shellfish can lead to severe intoxications such as amnesia, paralysis, diarrhoea and vomiting.

Chemical tests

Reference methods described in the European Union (EU) legislation to test for the presence of these toxins are based on chemical testing. To increase our knowledge of marine biotoxins the European Union (EU) established a network of European reference laboratories (EURL) and national reference laboratories (NRL). The EURL is located in Vigo Spain. RIKILT is the Dutch NRL and actively participates in the EURL-NRL network.

Developing and applying chemical tests

RIKILT has extensive expertise on developing and applying chemical tests for various toxin groups. These chemical tests are based on liquid chromatography coupled to UV, fluorescence or mass spectrometric detection and are the official EU methods (Regulation (EC) No 2074/2005 – chapter III). The classes of toxins for which legislation is established in the EU (Regulation (EC) No 853/2004 – chapter III) causes the following syndromes;

  • Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning [(ASP) toxin; domoic acid]
  • Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning [(PSP) toxin; saxitoxins]
  • Lipophilic marine toxins including
    • Diarrheic shellfish poisoning [(DSP) toxin; okadaic acid and dinophysistoxins]
    • Azaspiracids
    • Pectenotoxins
    • Yessotoxins

In addition to method development and validation of tests, an NRL also advises and participates in panels from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and CODEX.