13 Nov 2014

NZ marine biotoxins in demand

3:43 pm on 13 November 2014

Unique marine biotoxins developed by scientists at the Cawthron Institute to help keep seafood free from harmful toxins are being supplied to laboratories worldwide.

The research centre in Nelson has signed a major global distribution deal with international analytical and chemical company Sigma-Aldrich Corporation.

The unique high-value biotoxins were discovered by scientists at the institute some years ago and could now be used for testing in research labs globally to help keep shellfish such as mussels and oysters safe from potentially fatal toxins.

The institute's technical manager, Paul McNabb, said the biotoxins are in huge demand.

"They're really valuable because they're so hard to get. They're produced in minute quantities by algae that grow in the sea, those algae are difficult to grow - but you need to have small amounts of these compounds in order to calibrate test methods and other things so to check whether food is free from these toxins.

"Some of these toxins can sell for tens of thousands of US dollars per milligram and that really reflects the difficulty in purifying the toxins. The cost is in the hours that go into growing the algae and isolating the very small component from those algael cultures."

Dr McNabb said it was part of ongoing work they are doing to protect New Zealand's valuable seafood industry.

"The ongoing reputational damage and the likelihood of people not buying products from New Zealand, and in fact that can infect other industries. So all New Zealand products can be tainted, if you like, by an outbreak in a mussel product."

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