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UMaine Today Magazine

Safer Shellfish Through Technology
Back to Resistance to Red Tide-]

Laurie Connell
Laurie Connell

Facial numbness, tingling in the arms and legs, nausea, dizziness and those are the milder symptoms.

Paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) resulting from the consumption of shellfish tainted with toxins found in the algae that cause red tide is a very real danger. PSP has become a growing concern in recent years with dramatic increases in the extent and frequency of red tide blooms in Maine's coastal waters.

While the state has an extensive monitoring program for detecting the presence of the various species of algae responsible for red tide, current testing procedures are costly and time consuming. Utilizing breakthrough techniques in molecular biology and sensor technology, University of Maine marine scientist Laurie Connell and bioengineer Rosemary Smith of UMaine's Laboratory for Surface Science and Technology are teaming up to develop a faster, more efficient device that can detect PSP-causing algae in the field.

Backed by nearly $400,000 in funding by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's Monitoring and Event Response for Harmful Algal Blooms Program, the primary goal is to develop a small testing device that is based on a direct-detection mechanism, rather than enzymes or biological materials that can be short-lived and expensive. The handheld device will use a DNA-like molecule that binds to the genetic material of the organisms present in the sample. Light reflected from the bound molecules would then be measured to reveal the identity and concentration of the organisms present.

The rapid-detection device will have the ability to provide on-site, nearly instantaneous results at low cost. It also could be deployed on buoys to create red tide detection arrays in critical areas.

In serious cases, PSP can lead to muscle paralysis and respiratory failure. Connell and Smith's work has the potential to assist water quality managers working to prevent future poisonings in Maine and around the world.


UMaine Today Magazine
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