Phycotoxins: natural toxic substances that get into our food 

Produced by algae

Phycotoxins (algae toxins) are a good example of natural toxins that can get into our food. They are produced by algae in both fresh and seawater, and accumulate in fish or shellfish. If consumed by humans, they can cause a number of intoxication syndromes, such as diarrhoea, forgetfulness, orientation problems or partial paralysis.

Expertise at Wageningen Food Safety Research

Wageningen Food Safety Research has specific expertise in analysing marine biotoxins in shellfish, and tracing other phycotoxins in foodstuffs such as dietary supplements, for example.


We have vast experience in developing and applying chemical tests for a whole range of toxin groups, and use liquid chromatography with UV, fluorescence or mass spectrometric detection to conduct these tests. Our research also focuses on cell-based in vitro assays, otherwise known as effect analysis.

No animal testing

Effect analysis could eventually dispense with the need to test phycotoxins on animals. Although this is currently permitted, the Netherlands has already stopped using animals to test these groups of toxins, and we hope that our work will ultimately reduce the need for animal testing elsewhere in the world.

Searching for unidentified toxins

Research into natural toxins is one of research fields in which Wageningen Food Safety Research leads the way. We determine all legally regulated phycotoxins, including okdaic acid, azaspiracids, saxitoxins and domoic acid, and can also analyse non-regulated toxins, such as ciguatera toxins, cyclic imines and palytoxins. Our effect-based tests enable us to detect unidentified toxins with the same working mechanism.

Unique broad expertise

Wageningen Food Safety Research boasts broad expertise in the field of toxicology (effect assays) and analytical chemistry (measuring) and has managed to secure a unique position in the research field by combining the two.

More information about marine biotoxins is available on our NRL site (National Reference Laboratory).