Greater Caribbean Center for Ciguatera Research

NIEHS Grant: P01ES028949

Michael Parsons, Ph.D.

The Greater Caribbean Center for Ciguatera Research (GCCCR) is a multi-institutional collaboration between scientists who study ciguatera fish poisoning (CFP) and the environmental factors influencing its occurrence. CFP is a common foodborne illness caused by the consumption of reef fish contaminated with ciguatoxin (CTX). CTX is a neurotoxin produced by Gambierdiscus, a group of microscopic marine algae that accumulate in the coral reef food web of warm waters such as the Caribbean and the Florida Keys. Center researchers are studying the link between global ocean warming and the increased occurrence of CFP. They are also studying how toxic Gambierdiscus metabolites and CTX enter the marine food web and the cellular mechanisms by which the toxins impact human health. Three integrated research projects will provide valuable new insight toward developing strategies to protect seafood consumers from CFP despite global ocean warming.

Projected increase in growing season for the G. silvae “super bug” with warming sea surface temperatures

Project leader: Michael Parsons, Ph.D.

Project researchers are investigating how warming sea surface temperatures influence the geographic distribution and population dynamics of toxin-producing Gambierdiscus strains in the Greater Caribbean Region. They will use these findings to develop a computational model of CTX fluxes into coral reef food webs. This modeling effort will enable researchers to better predict CFP events and protect public.

Integration: Metabolite profiles, bioaccumulation, and biomarkers of exposure to Gambierdiscus and ciguatoxins

Project leader: Alison Robertson, Ph.D.

Investigators are studying how toxic Gambierdiscus metabolites accumulate in the marine food web. They are also identifying biomarkers of CTX exposure which will enable the detection of contaminated seafood, thereby protecting consumers.

Translation: Human mechanisms of genotoxicity and cellular metabolism

Project lead: Robert W. Sobol, Ph.D.

This project focuses on the cellular mechanisms by which CTX exposure in humans induces genetic damage, mitochondrial dysfunction, and cell death. The researchers are using state-of-the-art technology to evaluate crosstalk between cellular signaling pathways that may reveal novel biomarkers associated with human CTX exposure.