Relating harmful phytoplankton to shellfish toxicity and human health

Lead Research Organisation: Marine Scotland
Department Name: Marine Laboratory


Phytoplankton form the base of the marine food chain. Most phytoplankton are benign and indeed positively benefitial to the health of the environment. However, a minority of phytoplantkon are harmful to humans, the environment or the economy as a result of their prouction of toxic substances. These phytoplankton are often called harmful algal blooms or HABs. Toxic phytoplankton may be ingested by filter feeding shellfish that are not themselves harmed but which accumulate and concentrate the toxin in their tissue. If the shellfish are them eaten by humans potentially serious illness may occur. Monitoring programs of phytoplankton and shellfish flesh act as a means of minimising the heath risk to humans of shellfish consumption. Hwever, through factors that are not fully understood harmful phytoplankton and their toxins are perceived to be on the increase in UK waters. Hence, it is necessary to better understand to factors that influence toxin production its vectoring by shellfish and the public health implications of shellfish toxicity. Research in this field in the UK is relatively underdeveloped and fragmented with little or no colllaboration between environmental and biomedical scientists. In this proposal we intend to hold a research workshop to integrate scientists, regulators, monitoring agencies and industry representatives with expertise in hamful phytoplankton and their effects. The worshop will allow the interdisciplinary sharing of knowledge and ideas and allow the hypothesis to be formulated for future environmental/biomedical colloborative projects. The production of a report will allow us to disseminate more widely the knowledge gained during the project.


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Davidson K (2009) Shellfish toxicity in UK waters: a threat to human health? in Environmental health : a global access science source

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Hester, R. E.; Harrison, R.M.; Allen, J. Icarus; Stewart, Jill R.; Readman, Jo; Davidson, Keith; Moore, Michael (2011) Marine Pollution and Human Health

Description This grant was a capacity building workshop that brought together scientists and industry representatives from the UK and abroad to discuss the issue of harmful algal blooms and their impact on human health and aquaculture.
The event was very successful generating a number of new research collaborations and areas of research that have subsequently received funding.
The workshop generated:
1) An improved understanding of the factors that at govern harmful algal blooms (HABs), shellfish poisoning and human heath in UK waters.
2) Better integration of research effort across the sector
3) Increased knowledge suitable to provide advice to regulatory bodies to allow for better protection of human health.
Exploitation Route The grant was capacity building in nature. It has generated a number of synthesis publications and subsequent research grants.
The grant holders also use the knowledge gained to support regulatory monitoring of harmful phytoplankton
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education,Environment

Description This project funded a collaborative workshop that brought together UK and international experts in the field of harmful algae. The workshop has generated a number of subsequent successful grant applications and research publications
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Description Harmful algal risk assessment methodology development
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact This award led to a range of subseuqent funding that has allowed the development of methodologies to assess the risk to aquaculture from harmful algal blooms. These approaches help safeguard human health and the sustainable development of the aquaculture industry.
Description FP7
Amount £300,000 (GBP)
Organisation European Union 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 04/2010 
End 12/2013
Description Harmful algae, nuisance blooms and anthropogenic nutrient enrichment
Amount £75,000 (GBP)
Organisation Department For Environment, Food And Rural Affairs (DEFRA) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2008 
End 12/2009
Description The competitive dynamics of toxic and non toxic ribotypes of the harmful dinoflagellate Alexandrium tamarense
Amount £70,000 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/G011362/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2009 
End 09/2013
Description Relating harmful phytoplankton to shellfish poisoning and human health. Environment and Human Health 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience Participants in your research or patient groups
Results and Impact presentation
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2008