The Good, the Bad and the Toxic
In 1987, National Research Council of Canada (NRC) scientists worked around the clock to ﬁnd out why three Canadians had died and hundreds became sick after eating mussels. The villain, a rare toxin produced by algae, was traced to a single area of Prince Edward Island. Ever since, NRC has helped Canadian food inspectors ensure that popular seafood is safe to eat. Now, NRC is developing advanced tools to provide early warnings of toxic algae before shellﬁsh become contaminated.
In 2002, NRC’s chemical analysis wizards documented the ﬁrst case of “paralytic shellﬁsh poisoning” in North America – caused by the consumption of pufferﬁsh caught off the Florida coast. More recently, NRC joined an international research program to monitor and forecast shellﬁsh toxins along the Gulf of Maine and the Bay of Fundy.
NRC researchers are also looking at ways to prevent shellﬁsh toxins from entering the food chain and found a gene in clams that may determine toxin levels. The NRC discovery could help scientists breed shellﬁsh that are safer to eat – a beneﬁt to both consumers and the shellﬁsh industry.