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