Food Analysis

Certified reference materials of brevetoxin marine toxins

Read about four new certified reference material (CRM) solutions of brevetoxins, responsible for neurotoxic shellfish poisoning (NSP), in this article from Issue 10 of the Analytix Reporter, produced by Merck.

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BrevetoxinsThe pleasure of eating a good meal of fresh seafood can sometimes be abruptly dampened, if the food is contaminated by algal toxins accumulated through the food chain. Toxic algae can exponentially grow in unpredictably occurring algae blooms. Also, due to climate change such algae blooms can spread to new areas where they have been unknown before. There is a big variety of naturally occurring marine toxins with very diverse chemical structures produced by various species of algae or phytoplankton. Some examples of marine toxin classes include amnesic shellfish toxins (domoic acid), diarrhetic shellfish toxins (okadaic acid and dinophysistoxins), and paralytic shellfish toxins (e.g. saxitoxin or neosaxitoxin).

Brevetoxins (BTX) are neurotoxins produced by the dinoflagellate Karenia brevis and are responsible
for neurotoxic shellfish poisoning (NSP). Acute symptoms of NSP include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea,
parasthesia, cramps, bronchoconstriction, paralysis, seizures, and coma. Brevetoxins have complex cyclic polyether structures. Although neurotoxic shellfish poisoning (NSP) predominantly occurs in the Gulf of Mexico and the east coast of the US, it can also be found in other regions, such as New Zealand. Particularly notable was the NSP outbreak observed in the New Zealand Hauraki Gulf region in 1993. In these regions, the brevetoxins in shellfish are regulated. The US FDA and New Zealand sets the action level at 0.8 mg BTX-2 equivalents per kg shellfish (MPI BMS RCS 2018, ref US FDA). In Australia, the maximum level for BTX-group toxins is 20 MUs/100 g, but the BTX analogue is not specified (FSANZ, 2010). In the EU, brevetoxins are currently not regulated but the EFSA published a scientific opinion assessing the risks to human health related to the consumption of brevetoxin-(BTX) group toxins in shellfish and fish.

While traditional methods such as the mouse bioassay or ELISA are still being used for detection of marine toxins, the use of LC-MS is gaining importance. Therefore, the availability of well characterized, reliable reference materials is critical. One of the main challenges hereby is the limited availability of such materials. The toxins often need to be isolated from the producing algae, which is a very laborious process that typically yields only a few mg of purified material.

In Merck's ISO/IEC 17025 and ISO 17034 double accredited laboratory, a combination of quantitative NMR (qNMR) and Isotope Dilution MS (IDMS) are used enabling the manufacturing of Certified Reference Materials (CRMs) with very low quantities of starting materials. A considerable number of marine toxin CRM solutions have been launched over the past years using this method. Recently, four new brevetoxins CRM solutions have been added to this range.

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*The life science business of Merck operates as MilliporeSigma in the U.S. and Canada.

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