IAEA Hails New Cuban Lab's Capability

Naturally occurring ciguatoxins are responsible for ciguatera poisoning, responsible for tens of thousands of seafood poisoning cases every year. The new lab will provide analytical services to other countries in the region, as well.

A laboratory in Cuba that recently became fully operational is the first lab in Latin America and the Caribbean to be able to detect ciguatoxins, the toxins responsible for the most significant non-bacterial seafood poisoning, and it resulted from lose cooperation between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and local partners, the organization announced March 25.

Naturally occurring ciguatoxins are responsible for ciguatera poisoning, responsible for tens of thousands of seafood poisoning cases every year. The new lab will provide analytical services to other countries in the region, as well, IAEA reported, adding that it has worked to address the ciguatoxin problem by building capacity for ciguatera monitoring in the region through the use of nuclear and isotopic techniques. "Ciguatera toxins have been a major problem in Latin America and the Caribbean for years, and now we have become the first laboratory in the region capable of monitoring ciguatera toxins on site through the use of nuclear techniques," said Carlos Alonso-Hernandez, vice director at the Centre of Environmental Studies of Cienfuegos (CEAC). "From our training in nuclear techniques, we can contribute to robust seafood safety programs that are crucial for the health and well-being of our region, not to mention the economy."

Ciguatoxins are one of the many naturally occurring biotoxins associated with harmful algal blooms, known as red tide. Factors such as coastal upwelling or agricultural runoff can increase nutrient levels in water and can cause algal blooms, which in some cases produce biotoxins such as ciguatoxin. Nuclear techniques can quickly identify biotoxins in seafood and in the environment and pinpoint these outbreaks more accurately than other methods.

IAEA researchers have been training scientists in nearly 40 countries, including Cuba, on the use of a key nuclear tool—the radioligand receptor binding assay—and more.

"Outbreaks of HABs that produce ciguatoxins used to be limited to tropical and subtropical regions, but new endemic regions are emerging while expansion of the international seafood trade is also spreading the risks of seafood contamination," said Marie-Yasmine Dechraoui Bottein, a research scientist at the IAEA Environment Laboratories in Monaco.

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