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Cyanotoxins: Which detection technique for an optimum risk assessment?

Gaget, Virginie, Lau, Melody, Sendall, Barbara, Froscio, Suzanne, Humpage, Andrew R.
Water research 2017 v.118 pp. 227-238
Cyanobacteria, animal and human health, bioassays, chemical analysis, cylindrospermopsin, drinking water, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, guidelines, liquid chromatography, mass spectrometry, microcystins, microscopy, monitoring, polymerase chain reaction, protein synthesis, risk, risk assessment, saxitoxins, toxicity, water reservoirs
The presence of toxigenic cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) in drinking water reservoirs poses a risk to human and animal health worldwide. Guidelines and health alert levels have been issued in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines for three major toxins, which are therefore the subject of routine monitoring: microcystin, cylindrospermopsin and saxitoxin. While it is agreed that these toxic compounds should be monitored closely, the routine surveillance of these bioactive chemicals can be done in various ways and deciding which technique to use can therefore be challenging. This study compared several assays available for the detection of these toxins and their producers in environmental samples: microscopy (for identification and enumeration of cyanobacteria), ELISA (Enzyme-Linked ImmunoSorbant Assay), PPIA (Protein phosphatase inhibition assay), PSI (Protein synthesis inhibition), chemical analysis and PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction). Results showed that there was generally a good correlation between the presence of potentially toxigenic cyanobacteria and the detection of the toxin by ELISA. Nevertheless data suggest that cell numbers and toxin concentrations measured in bioassays do not necessarily correlate and that enumeration of potentially toxic cyanobacteria by microscopy, while commonly used for monitoring and risk assessment, is not the best indicator of real toxin exposure. The concentrations of saxitoxins quantified by ELISA were significantly different than those measured by LC-MS, while results were comparable in both assays for microcystin and cylindrospermopsin. The evaluation of these analytical methods led to the conclusion that there is no “gold standard” technique for the detection of the aforementioned cyanotoxins but that the choice of detection assay depends on cost, practicality, reliability and comparability of results and essentially on the question to be answered, notably on toxin exposure potential.