Detecting Toxins in the Sea
Reported January 2010
(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Mussels, oysters, crab legs … they're some of the finest from the sea, but they can be deadly. A toxic shellfish kill the fish that eat them and can make people sick … even paralyzed. There's little out there right now to detect poisoned fish, but, a solution may be as simple as a tea bag.
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We love to play in it, fish in it, surf in it but what lies beneath the ocean could be toxic.
Shellfish poisoning makes hundreds of people sick each year. Domoic acid can be found in oysters, mussels, sardines and anchovies. These fish feed on algae that can accumulate the toxin, poisoning not only people, but animals like the sea lions that eat them.
"Domoic acid is a huge, huge problem," Raphael Kudela, Ph.D., an biological oceanographer and associate professor at the University of California in Santa Cruz, told Ivanhoe. "Every year there's fatalities in sea lions and birds and sicknesses in humans. It attacks the brain cells and can actually cause brain damage if you get enough of it."
Dr. Kudela is leading the team in charge of Spatt, which is short for solid phase absorption toxin testing.
"Tea bag is easier to say, so we refer to them tea bags," Dr. Kudela explained.
The 'tea bags' are full of resin.
"The resin is similar to a water filter and chlorine, except its absorbing toxins from the sea water," Dr. Kudela said. "For deploying we went low tech. These are embroidery hoops. Once it's in the hoop, it just goes on a rope. The bag is like a tea bag. Where the water can flow back and forth across it and as it flows back and forth it interacts with that resin."
Every week the bags are taken to the lab and checked. High doses are anything over 20 parts per million. Off the coast of California some mussels have been reported with 660 parts per million. These tea bags would give researchers a way to alert the public that the toxins in the water are high, saving people from eating dangerous the contaminated shellfish.
It's just one way science is making the sea, and what comes out of it, safer.
Domoic acid poisoning happens more in the early spring and fall. Phytoplankton causes it to die in extremely warm or cold water.
The American Geophysical Union contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.
Click here to Go Inside This Science or contact:
Raphael M. Kudela
University of California
Santa Cruz, CA 95064
American Geophysical Union
Washington, DC 20009-1277
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