In Europe, the regulation and monitoring of marine biotoxins in bivalve molluscs (e.g. mussels and oysters) sometimes still involves mouse bioassay (MBA), a method of testing toxicity by injecting concentrated extracts into live mice.
This testing is crucial to consumer safety given that some of these toxins – for example, paralytic shellfish toxins (PSTs) – can result in severe poisoning that, in some cases, may lead to fatal paralysis of the respiratory muscles.
Two alternative chemical methods based on a liquid chromatography fluorescence detector (LC-FLD) have been approved for use; however, compared to MBA these are slow, labour-intensive, expensive and unable to detect new toxins. For this reason, MBA remains one alternative for analysing PSTs in inspections of shellfish in certain countries, although not in Sweden.
In order to replace MBA, we need a method that is both faster and less labour-intensive than LC-FLD methods. The risk for the emergence of new toxins must also be considered.
The Swedish Food Agency has developed a quantitative method based on hydrophilic interaction liquid chromatography– tandem mass spectrometry (HILIC-MS/MS) that is suitable for use in European monitoring of PSTs. We are evaluating rapid tests that can be used for screening in mussel production areas where toxin profiles are stable.
We are also evaluating a high-resolution method, HILIC-HRMS, for screening of emerging, previously unknown toxins in Swedish waters, as this new technology can provide data on the identity and structure of toxins that cannot be achieved with targeted analytical methods.
The project’s cutting-edge scientific expertise and maximum impact on legislation has been achieved through collaboration between the Swedish and Danish national reference laboratories for marine biotoxins and the European Union Reference Laboratory for Marine Biotoxins (EURLMB).
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Head of Chemistry Department