The Lobster Pregnancy Test
SPARC 2022 Poster Number 13
The landing of berried (egg-bearing) lobsters into England was made illegal in 2017. Since then, an illegal technique called ‘scrubbing’ is thought to be used in order to be able to still land caught, berried lobsters. The aim of the Lobster Pregnancy Test project is to be able to develop a field kit that can detect scrubbing, in order to facilitate law enforcement.
The field kit in development is based on the Enzyme-linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA). This is a is a highly sensitive protein assay, which is the basis on tests like the human pregnancy test, or the COVID lateral flow test. When the target protein (in our case, proteins from lobster eggs released as eggs are broken during scrubbing) is detected, a change of colour in the assay is observed and recorded by Optical Density (OD).
Lobsters have been sampled by swabbing. So far 6 positive controls, 10 negative and 50 unknown have been collected for protocol optimization, in collaboration with the National Lobster Hatchery, in Padstow, Cornwall.
Preliminary results show a close, positive relationship between the intensity of the colour change and the presence of the target protein. Further tests are being run to determine how long after scrubbing the antigen can be detected for; whether the antigen is detected on newly spent lobsters and how contamination from other individuals can be ruled out.
Once optimised, this kit will allow the detection and hopefully prevent the illegal practice of scrubbing, which will help preserve the stocks of this important British resource.