As the designated National Reference Laboratory (NRL) for monitoring marine biotoxins — from outbreaks of phytoplankton blooms, for example — in shellfish production areas, the institute carries out a range of seafood safety programmes.
These ensure that Irish seafood products going to national and international markets adhere to the highest food safety standards.
Joe Silke, manager of the shellfish safety monitoring team, says the new generation of scanning electron microscopes (SEMs) “have been an incredible step forward in microscopic technology.
“Our new instrument offers unrivalled imaging performance and provides high resolution capabilities necessary to observe tiny features on the surface of single celled toxic algae. Placing such samples in the machine will allow us extremely high magnification of these features and certainly opens up a new world of what we can examine and analyse.”
Some 2,750 phytoplankton and 3,000 shellfish samples are tested annually under the national phytoplankton and biotoxin monitoring programmes. This includes weekly testing of shellfish from all production sites as well as weekly seawater sampling and analysis to detect harmful and toxic species.
“The SEM is therefore vital in providing our teams with the ability to identify phytoplankton cells down to species level, and effectively is essential in helping us expand our services,” Silke added.
The microscope will also expand the broader research capabilities of the Marine Institute, with potential applications to marine biodiscovery.
This will include “aiding in as yet to be identified novel organisms and their features, as well as in applied aspects of marine environmental research, such as microplastics for which there is significant current interest,” said Dr Jeff Fisher, director of marine environment and food safety at the Marine Institute.