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Emergent Marine Toxins in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean: New Approaches to Assess their Occurrence and Future Scenarios in the Framework of Global Environmental Changes.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EMERTOX (Emergent Marine Toxins in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean: New Approaches to Assesstheir Occurrence and Future Scenarios in the Framework of Global Environmental Changes.)

Reporting period: 2018-03-01 to 2020-02-29

Episodes of human poisoning caused by Harmful Algal Blooms have been commonly recorded in the last century mostly because of the lack of regular monitoring programs. In Portugal, fatal cases linked to the consumption of bivalves contaminated by Paralytic Shellfish Toxins – PSP led to the establishment of a national monitoring program for these types of toxins that started in 1986. Latter, the compulsory monitoring of Amnesic Shellfish Poisonings (ASP) toxins and Diarrheic Shellfish Poisonings (DSP) toxins according to the international regulations, led to the local detection of these toxins in edible marine organisms .Today, the cases of human poisonings in Europe are sporadic, usually because of violated national health authorities’ regulations imposing the closure of harvesting areas and seafood commercialization.

The problem is different when we refer to Emergent Marine Toxins, such as tetrodotoxins, palytoxins and ciguatoxins, which are not yet regulated in Europe nor monitored regularly. Recent episodes on human intoxications by these emergent toxins in Europe led us to implement EMERTOX to prevent future human poisonings and to decrease the impact in fisheries and aquaculture.

The project aims to create a robust and sustainable network of experts with excellent complementary competencies on marine algal toxins. The network will collaborate not only with national authorities but also with European ones, such as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), for the assessment and management of risks associated to emerging toxins and the species that produce them. The assessment of the current risks related to emerging harmful algae and the prediction of future scenarios will be fundamental for EFSA, which will recommend whether these emerging toxins should be monitored in Europe, and for the development appropriate strategies to protect human health.

EMERTOX - aims to map the actual situation in emergent marine toxins and the producing organisms, develop new approaches to assess their occurrence and predict the possible future scenarios in the framework of global warming. The consortium, formed by a multidisciplinary team, will produce a joint research and innovation project that will exploit the complementary expertise of the participants and will create synergies among them. The main objectives are:

1- to assess the current situation on potentially harmful algae and bacteria and the relevant emerging toxins in 8 countries belonging to different but geographically connected areas (Mediterranean Sea and North Atlantic);

2- to develop innovative approaches to sample, and analyze the producing organisms and their toxins by chemical and biological methods including immunoassays and sensors;

3- to estimate different future scenarios based on molecular data (routes of dispersion) and modelling.
During this first period, we are able to develop all branding resources of the project that allow us to optimize the communication and dissemination strategy designed for a maximum impact.

The kick off meeting in Cabo Verde, at São Vicente and Santo Antão Islands, was the starting point for the field work, joining all the teams of the consortium in a coordinated effort to plan all the activities ahead. A Conference on Emergent Marine Toxins was organized with the support of the University of Cabo Verde and of the Mindelo Municipality, where scientists, technicians, students, and stakeholders had the opportunity to contact for the first time with the emergent toxins problem. A workshop, field excursions, and visits to local stakeholders were very fruitful and allowed the establishment of new collaborations. The samples collected are being treated in the different partners and news strains of cyanobacteria and dinoflagelates are being isolated for further analysis. Biomass and isolated strains will later be used to map the current situation of emergent toxins.

At this time all the teams had the opportunity to discuss, implement and try in situ methodologies for the sampling of toxin producing organisms and their toxins, in special for benthic dinoflagellates and cyanobacteria. Environmental samplers were also tested either during the first visit in 2018 but also during 2019 for some of the partners. A Lab-on-a Chip platform to detect toxic algae is also being developed. Existing equipments for the in situ chemical analysis of the toxins are being adapted for the type of toxins of interedt to the project.

The development of new biological assays for the detection of emergent toxins is being carried out based on optical biosensor detection, optical SPR, fluorescence polarization or similar approaches as well as immunochemical assays and nanobiosensors. Standards and organisms maintained in the laboratory are being used for this purpose, but later, natural samples collected in the different field trips will be used.

An exhibition on emergent marine toxins is being finalized to be displayed in schools and environmental science centers as soon as the conditions imposed by the covid-19 pandemic will allow. Meanwhile, the scientists of the consortium have been publishing papers with the first results and disseminating the information in conferences, newsletters, and media.
The results obtained by EMERTOX will allow to get new data on the distribution of emergent toxins in the North Atlantic region, detect new vectors and new toxin producing species and map the current state of this problem. New chemical and biological methods will be developed so as to optimize the techniques and novel sampling strategies will be defined, in special for benthic dinoflagelates. Data collected from the field and the strains isolated during the project will allow us to predict future scenarios in the context of climate change.

EMERTOX will contribute to the raise of awareness across Europe and North Africa regarding emerging marine toxins and toxin producing organisms. We will have a strong impact in national and European authorities responsible for monitoring marine toxins by providing them with up to date data on new toxin-producing species and new toxins, new and more accurate methods to detect them and a prediction model on their evolution regarding different climate change scenarios. This will constitute a fundamental instrument for the development of a strategic plan in Europe to deal with emergent marine toxins before more human poisoning events occur.