02 Feb, 2016

New research – blue green algae toxins linked to Alzheimer’s disease

Excessive nutrients such as phosphate in water bodies can cause the domination of a particular type of algae called Blue green algae (or cyanobacteria). Blue green algal blooms are harmful to aquatic organisms as they consume large amounts of dissolved oxygen in the water column during respiration; causing aquatic animals such as fish to suffocate and die. Blue green algae can also produce toxins which have been linked to the death of aquatic organisms and other animals that drink the water containing blue green algae.

New research has shown a link between toxins contained in blue green algae and the occurrence of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Motor Neurone Disease in humans. A paper recently published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B – Biological Sciences (January 2016), stated that some varieties of blue green algae produce a neurotoxic amino acid called BMAA. The concentration of this toxin can be biomagnified when passed up the food chain in aquatic ecosystems. Exposure occurs to humans when fish and shellfish containing BMAA are consumed. According to the paper, BMAA can also be ingested by humans during the inhalation of blue green algal cells contained in soils or from aquatic aerosols.

For further information on the journal paper referenced above, please see: Cox P.A, Davis D.A, Mash D.C, Metcalf J.S and Banack S.A. 2016. Dietary exposure to an environmental toxin triggers neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid deposits in the brain. Proc. R. Soc. B 283: 20152397. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2015.2397