Government of Canada Invests in Developing a Portable Test for Domoic Acid, a Marine Biotoxin

OTTAWA, ON – The Government of Canada is investing in small and medium-sized businesses working on innovative tools, products and services that help keep Canada’s food, plants and animals safe.

Today, the Honourable Mark Holland, Minister of Health, announced a $300,000 investment in two Canadian small businesses. As part of an Innovative Solutions Canada (ISC) challenge sponsored by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the following companies are each receiving $150,000 to develop a proof of concept for an environmental domoic acid test:

  • Cytodiagnostics Inc., specializing in nanoparticles and lateral flow assay conjugates, located in Burlington, Ontario
  • Sensoreal Inc., specializing in microfluidics, located in Montreal, Quebec

Domoic acid is one of numerous naturally occurring biotoxins produced by algae in marine waters. This and other marine biotoxins are of particular interest to communities with a greater reliance on fish and seafood in their diets. Eating shellfish with high levels of marine biotoxins, including domoic acid, can cause severe food poisoning and life-threatening neurological effects. Consuming shellfish with high levels of domoic acid can cause an illness known as amnesic shellfish poisoning. Repeated, lower-level exposures may also accumulate over time and lead to cognitive disorders, including memory loss.

This type of portable test would be used to detect even the lowest levels of domoic acid in marine waters in real time. The data will help:

  • increase scientists’ knowledge of domoic acid and the environmental conditions that lead to its production, which in turn could inform future food safety programs;
  • allow scientists to study and model domoic acid production in the water, which could lead to new tools that signal toxin increases in the environment;
  • enhance understanding of harmful algal blooms and climate change impacts on marine environments; and
  • establish new research and collaboration opportunities, including with coastal Indigenous peoples and remote communities.

Although the test will enable scientists to collect and study new data, it will not replace regulatory testing through the Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program (CSSP). Shellfish should not be harvested in areas that are identified as closed or unmonitored according to the CSSP.  

The Government of Canada’s continued collaboration with small and medium businesses is resulting in novel solutions that can help protect Canadians and the economy, both now and into the future.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) touches the lives of all Canadians in so many positive ways. Each day, hard-working CFIA employees – including inspectors, veterinarians and scientists – inspect food for safety risks, protect plants from pests and invasive species, and respond to animal diseases that could threaten Canada’s national herd and human health. Guided by science-based decision-making and modern regulations, the Agency works tirelessly to ensure access to safe and healthy food in Canada, and support access to international markets for our high-quality agricultural products. To learn more, visit