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NOAA and IAEA collaboration on Harmful Algal Blooms

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have formalized their collaboration to provide technical assistance in the management of the impacts of harmful algal blooms. A Practical Arrangement outlining the terms of the collaboration was signed by the Head of IAEA Technical Cooperation, Ana Maria Cetto, and by David Kennedy, Acting Assistant Administrator, National Ocean Service.

Harmful algal blooms (HABs) have a serious global impact on human health, economies and the ecosystem. For over a decade, the IAEA has been helping Member States develop capabilities for the early detection of toxins in shellfish, using rapid assay techniques based on radio-labelled saxitoxin for toxin quantification as well as assessment of the behaviour of toxic algal blooms. To date 20 IAEA Member States are receiving support to deal with HABS-related problems.

A Receptor Binding Assay (RBA) uses a nuclear technique to determine levels of neurotoxins produced by harmful algae. The technique is more sensitive and allows for a higher throughput than the conventional mouse bioassay method. It can, therefore, ensure better protection of the public as well as the income of shellfish farmers.

Under the collaboration framework , the IAEA and NOAA are working together to support IAEA Member States in the development and implementation of joint strategies and programmes concerning human health, seafood safety and the environmental impacts of HABs. The focus is on developing capacities for HABs monitoring, toxin testing and technology transfer applicable to HABs investigations. Special attention is paid to the Receptor Binding Assay (RBA) methods for toxin in shellfish, which cause paralysis (PSP) and ciguatera (CFP). In addition, the aim is to assist Member States in the development of a manual on standard procedures for the use of the RBA technique for PSP, and to upgrade regional capabilities in Receptor Binding Assay.

A 'Manual of Methods for Harmful Algal Toxin detection using the Receptor Binding Assay' to guide Member States in the use of RBA is currently being prepared by the IAEA and NOAA, and will be released in 2011.  This manual will be available in electronic format on the IAEA web site, as well as on the International Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and NOAA web sites.

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