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Your Environment. Your Health.

Genetic Basis for Algal Bloom Toxicity

Bradley Moore, Ph.D.
Scripps Institution of Oceanography

NIEHS grantees identified a cluster of genes involved in the production of domoic acid, a toxin produced by certain harmful algal blooms. Domoic acid can sicken marine mammals and accumulate in seafood, posing a potential threat to human health.

The researchers studied the marine phytoplankton Pseudo-nitzschia, a type of algae that has been found in major harmful algal bloom events. They examined patterns of biological activity in Pseudo-nitzschia grown in water with limited phosphate and increased carbon dioxide. These growth conditions are known to contribute to domoic acid production. The team analyzed genome-wide changes in RNA expression and identified a cluster of genes that are switched on when the phytoplankton produces domoic acid.

Harmful algal blooms are difficult to predict, and bloom-causing organisms typically possess complex, large genomes. According to the authors, knowledge of how the genes for domoic acid production are turned on could improve monitoring of algal blooms and may be used to identify conditions that trigger toxin production.

Citation: Brunson JK, McKinnie SMK, Chekan JR, McCrow JP, Miles ZD, Bertrand EM, Bielinski VA, Luhavaya H, Obornik M, Smith GJ, Hutchins DA, Allen AE, Moore BS. 2018. Biosynthesis of the neurotoxin domoic acid in a bloom-forming diatom. Science 361(6409):1356-1358.

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