PSP tester

The new tester for Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning demonstrated on Friday. Julie Herrmann/Kodiak Daily Mirror

Over the next few years, local researchers and others will study and try a new tester for detecting paralytic shellfish poisoning in local seafood.

Mild symptoms of PSP include tingling or burning of the lips. In extreme cases, it can be fatal.

Currently testing costs at least $125 per test and has a time delay, as samples needto be sent to the state.

The goal of developing a different kind of test is a quicker turnaround for testing shellfish and an easier process people can do at home.

“We want to provide real-time data to the end user,” said Julie Matweyou, marine advisory program agent with Alaska SeaGrant. Matweyou, whose specialty is PSP, gave a presentation on Friday.

Simple tests other than the Mouse Bioassay and high-performance liquid chromatography used by regulatory agencies have already been developed, but they had some flaws for use in Alaska, Matweyou said.

Some are difficult to use. One is a pass/fail test that Matweyou has never seen give a negative reading, likely because Kodiak shellfish always have some level of PSP, even if its below the level allowed for consumption.

The new device is an electrochemical tester inspired by blood sugar tests used by diabetics, said Pat Tester with Ocean Tester.

“The testers we’ve put together have six steps,” Tester said. “You take the shellfish extract and put in an assay buffer, shake it, and then take a pipet and put four drops on the surface of the tester.”

The machine takes 20 minutes to work, but Tester said she hopes with further developments over the next year, the time will get down to one to five minutes.

Over the next couple years, researchers including Tester, Matweyou and NOAA representatives will test samples with both the new machine and the standardized Mouse Bioassay and HPLC testers to check accuracy. They will test the same samples repeatedly to check the variability in the equipment.

Preliminary tests have indicated some variability with the new tester. A sample that was known to have a PSP level of 200 micrograms gave readings 10-20 micrograms above and below that.

“We will be trying to dial that in this year,” Tester said.

The next steps come in three phases: laboratory validation followed by field validation followed by ultimately testing by the community.

“I’m hoping in one year, I will be back to put this in your hands,” Tester said.

Contact staff reporter Julie Herrmann at

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