It was 25 years ago this month that more than a hundred people were sickened on Prince Edward Island, Canada. Three people died.
Days later it was confirmed they suffered from a domoic acid in locally cultivated mussels.
Domoic acid in high levels can cause immediate neurotoxin reactions like spasms or seizures or memory loss, but little is known about low-level exposure over long periods.
But now NOAA Fisheries Biologist Kathi Lefebvre and her team have found a biological marker that may determine who is at risk for a domoic acid buildup.
Domoic acid grows in certain algae blooms and is picked up by shellfish. Tests will show if the shellfish are infected, but Lefebvre is looking at the affects of shellfish consumers. If the marker they have identified in lab fish can be translated to people, they could soon identify people with high domoic acid levels through a simple blood test. That person could then be warned to back off the shellfish for a while to let the levels go down.
Lefebvre said this could be particularly helpful for people in certain ethnic groups, who eat shellfish three or more times a week.