Aussie kit detecting threat of toxic algal blooms

Toxic algal blooms can now be detected up to two weeks before they become a serious health hazard, thanks to an early warning system developed through an Australian university-industry partnership.

The kit, which was first developed in Sydney and trialled in Tasmania, is now being used by seafood farmers in China, the USA, France, and regulatory bodies and farmers in the UK and Australia.

Microalgae are invisible to the naked eye, but the neurotoxins they produce can have serious consequences for human health and the seafood industry.

“While it’s not possible to stop these blooms, it is feasible to predict them,” says Professor Shauna Murray, of the University of Technology Sydney.

Shauna, along with PhD student Rendy Ruvindy and industry partner Diagnostic Technology, designed DinoDTec, a detection kit for the microalgae species Alexandrium. It allows farmers to prepare—for example harvesting shellfish earlier, or switching to harvest an unaffected area.

Alexandrium can produce large amounts of paralytic shellfish toxin (PST) when they go through a massive growth phase, commonly known as an algal bloom.

When commercially important species such as clams or lobsters feed on the algae the toxins accumulate in their bodies, making them unusable by the seafood industry. In 2012 alone an algal bloom cost the Tasmanian seafood industry nearly $23 million.

In 2016, mussel farmer Phil Lamb switched production to their Victorian sites when they detected a potential algal bloom using the kit.

“We now run DinoDTec weekly. Relying solely on sending meat samples interstate for testing, which can take up to five days, puts us at risk. During this time, the product may be harvested, distributed and even consumed,” Phil says.

Marine biotoxins are among the most toxic substances recorded. Credit: UTS

Banner image credit: UTS