Research – Emergent marine toxins risk assessment using molecular and chemical approaches

EFSA

Cyanobacteria harmful blooms represent a deviation to the normal equilibrium in planktonic communities involving a rapid and uncontrolled growth. Owing to the capacity to produce toxins as secondary metabolites, cyanobacteria may cause huge economic losses in the fishing and aquaculture industries and poisoning incidents to humans due to their accumulation in the food chain. The conditions which promote toxic blooms have not yet been fully understood, but climate change and anthropogenic intervention are pointed as significant factors. For the detection of toxins in edible marine organisms, the establishment of international regulations and compulsory surveillance has been probed as exceptionally effective. However, not regulation nor monitoring have been settled concerning emergent marine toxins. In the light of this scenario, it becomes essential to apply fast and reliable surveillance methodologies for the early detection of cyanobacterial blooms as well as the occurrence of emergent marine toxins. Shotgun metagenomic sequencing has potential to become a powerful diagnostic tool in the fields of food safety and One Health surveillance. This culture‐independent approach overcomes limitations of traditional microbiological techniques; it allows a quick and accurate assessment of a complex microbial community, including quantitative identification and functional characterisation, in a single experiment. In the framework of the EU‐FORA fellowship, with the final goal of evaluate metagenomics as a promising risk assessment tool, the fellow worked on the development of an innovative workflow through state‐of‐the‐art molecular and chemical analytical procedures. This work programme aims to evaluate the occurrence of emergent marine toxins and the producing organisms in Cabo Verde coastal cyanobacteria blooms. Our results show the outstanding potential of a holistic metagenomic approach for the risk assessment of emergent marine toxins and the producing organisms. Additionally, we have also highlighted its value for the identification and evaluation of secondary metabolites as natural bioactive compounds with biotechnological and industrial interest.

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