Team:UChile Biotec/Fieldwork


First Prototype

Prior our trip we designed a prototype of a device, taking into consideration main needs of affected people based in our knowledges about the problem. To achieve this, we used the following process to design a product. To find more information about steps in the design click here.

We knew that people who harvest shellfish canʼt know immediately if the products they extract are contaminated with HAB (harmful algal blooms) related toxins, so they have to extract everything, then test it and wait for the results to be able to sell the extracted products. Many times they lose everything because itʼs contaminated and as a consequence they waste a whole day of work and money that implicates less food in their houses. It is for that reason that fishermen carry in their boats a cat to which they give seafood and looks if it paralyzes, if it does, then it is contaminated so they have to move to another zone to extract shellfish.

We realized that we had to replace the “cat method” for a better and more reliable method to test shellfish in situ. So we create the BiMaTox (biosensing for marine toxins) Kit, considering a grinder to treat the sample, a piece of paper in which is going to be our lyophilized molecular construct, a drop for add buffer, easy to understand instructions and a box to protect all.

Considering all previous we got our first prototype, which was carved in wood to be tested.

Next we had to materialize testing this prototype and learn more about the people's life in the affected region, which we achieved by traveling to south of Chile.



Seremi de Salud

It is an institution responsible for protecting people's health. SEREMI controls shellfish that will be consumed in Chile through “Red Tide Program”. They determine the so called "closed areas" where red tide (HAB) is lethal, and "open areas" where people are allowed to harvest shellfish because there isn't a lethal concentration of toxins related to the red tide. They also must take samples daily in Angelmó, Calbuco, Carelmapu and Maullín to authorize the extraction on these zones.

Additionally every product extracted must be authorized by SEREMI DE SALUD to be sold. To achieve this, the institution takes samples from harvested products and analyze them in their laboratories to evaluate the red tide concentration. If shellfish has toxic amounts of toxins related to HAB are found, the whole lot is discarded and thrown away. The commercialization of non-certified shellfish is penalized with a fine. This institution has a lot of duties more than just checking the red tide. They continually organize forums to educate the population, apart from other duties related to the health area.


It is an institution dependent on the ministry of economy, they are responsible for supervising products extracted from the sea that are exported. SERNAPESCA controls toxins related to red tide in shellfish that will be exported through the “Bivalve shellfish health program”.

Like the products that are consumed in Chile, shellfish that will be exported must be sampled to be sold, through laboratories that they authorize. In contrast to SEREMI DE SALUD, SERNAPESCA doesn't performs the samplings neither financing it, they only check it is done.

Sampling must be analyzed through bioassay, because is the worldwide accepted method, especially in Europe where there are our principal shellfish customers, this method requires 3 mice for each sample.

Chiloé Archipielago

This Archipelago is the most magic place in our country, it has lots of myths and legends and they say that it is full of wizards and witches. This place is also known for its characteristic churches, wool products, and special vegetables that grow specifically in this archipelago. Chiloé is an important place for our team because the most recent crisis, in 2016, related with red tide affected almost the whole archipelago, and the principal economic activity of this place is the extraction of seafood, so red tide not only affects the economy of this place, but also the entire society.


Castro is the biggest city in Chiloé Archipelago, this city is beautiful and you can find the biggest and most colorful church in the archipelago, also you can find a characteristic kind of house called “palafito”, that consists in houses built above large wooden poles above the sea. This city has the principal government offices related to the archipelago and there is the principal laboratory in charge of the red tide detection LABTOX.


LABTOX is a laboratory that is part of Medicine Faculty from Universidad de Chile. It is the only laboratory authorized by the ministry to certificate shellfish products in Chiloé. Each sampling must be analyzed using 3 mice in the bioassay for paralytic toxins, for lipophilic toxins they use HPLC-MS/MS and for amnesic toxines they use HPLC-UV to analyze the samples.

This laboratory has been one of our major supports throughout our project evolution, and visit this place was very helpful to understand better processes that take place there. People that are part of LABTOX each day they put a lot of effort to change official method to detect paralytic toxins with mice, so they have shown great interest in Tenzyme Vilu Project, encouraging us to go ahead with this project.

The process is very simple. First they cultivate mussels putting seeds along a rope, then they wait few months until mussels are able to be harverst. If water and eventually this animals are contaminated with HAB related toxins, they wait a while for decontamination and then harvest. So in this case BiMaTox could be useful to determine when they can extract products, without necessarily having to take samples to the laboratory.

Then we met with TRANSANTARCTIC´s fishermen to test our prototype. First we ask everyone to grind the shellfish samples with our device, the effluent was collected in the glass, second we ask to put pH paper inside the sample collected in the glass, and finally we ask to identify the color in a pH scale, similar to our biosensor that was not liofilizated yet.

To evaluate the impact of the device, we asked them to answer a questionnaire at the end of the procedure and we answered some questions too based ir our observations. Here are the results:

To find more information about results click here.


Knowledge Enrichment

With this trip, we could learn about the real red tide impact in Chile. We understood that this problem affects lots of people in our country and from Santiago we canʼt notice it. We realize that although it seems a forgotten issue after the catastrophe that occurred in 2016, southern Chilean people must deal with red tide problem day by day to maintain them families, suffering fear and stress wondering if the red tide will appear next day.

We also realized that actual red tide chemical detection methods used by government institutions (like HPLC-MS) despite being expensive are so precise, and bioassay despite being an unethical method is worldwide accepted and in consequence hard to change. However, both methods involve taking samples to the laboratory, having already extracted a large amount of resources that could be contaminated and going to landfill, while the decontamination period could have been expected.

Therefore, preliminary testing with BiMaTox which allows to measure qualitatively toxin concentrations, could help reduce the amount of resources extracted in vain, and also people would stop taking their cats on their boats to “test” the products. Thank to this trip we could know that people feel mainly hope and happy with our project and also we could have feedback to improve BiMaTox Kit, which motivates us even more to continue in the future.


Prototyping final Device

With all the information recopilated during our trip and some advances in laboratory, we could design final device prototype.

To find more information about steps in the design click here.



We hope that in the near future fishermen and people from chiloé in general, could use our device to know if the products they extract and/or consume have harmful concentrations of toxins, so in the case of the fishermen they can move to other extracting zones, and in the case of people that eat freshly extracted seafood (like people from Lemuy Island), they can be sure about the presence or absence of toxins thanks to our device. We plan to improve our device so it can have two modes each one suitable to its users:

Qualitative Mode: This mode is the simpler one, suitable for fishermen and people in general. The principal idea of this mode is that the output of the device (starting from an input consisting on a simple sample of shellfish) should be yes or no, like a pregnancy test, being yes, the presence of lethal concentrations of toxins in the sample, and no, the absence or minimal presence of the toxins in the sample.

Quantitative Mode: This mode is a bit more complex than the previous one, it is suitable for the official entities in charge of monitoring red tide. The principal idea of this mode is that the output of the device (starting from an input consisting on a simple sample of shellfish) should be an standardized color scale that has certain concentration values related and/or with the use of an improved spectrophotometer to have better results.

We know that we still have a long way to go, a lot to learn and improve, however we hope that official entities in our country accept our method to be used not only in Chiloé Archipelago but in the entire country, and hopefully extend, in a long term, our method to other countries starting with our continent, then to other places affected by the red tide phenomenon taking care about the toxins that emerge in every zone and the potential users.