Destroying Shellfish Toxins Before They Enter the Food Chain

Shellfish are a nutritious dietary staple, but they may have potentially harmful effects. In rare but serious cases, a potent neurotoxin produced by marine diatoms, called domoic acid (DA) or amnesic shellfish toxin (AST), has caused permanent memory loss and even death when ingested. But now, a group of AFMNet researchers from Dalhousie University are investigating bacteria that can destroy this marine biotoxin. Coincidentally, the bacteria can be found in the digestive tracts of shellfish themselves.

Prof. Tom Gill, Department of Process Engineering and Applied Science, and his research team have been working to isolate bacteria from shellfish that contain DA, such as blue mussels and soft-shelled clams.  They’re screening these bacteria for the ability to degrade DA, and then feeding competent encapsulated strains to shellfish infected with DA to see if they can degrade the harmful toxin.

In Gill’s previous research on paralytic shellfish toxins (PSTs), another group of marine biotoxins, he found bacteria from blue mussels and soft-shelled clams that can break down these potent neurotoxins within one to three days. The idea to apply this work to DA came from research conducted in 1998 by Jim Stewart from Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

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