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US study warns of nerve toxin

A nerve toxin produced by marine algae off California appears to affect creatures in the deep ocean, posing a greater threat that previously thought, United States researchers said yesterday.

Surface blooms of the algae known as Pseudo-nitzschia can generate dangerously high levels of domoic acid, a neurotoxin.

"It's a natural neurotoxin. It is produced by a diatom, which is a phytoplankton. As other animals eat this phytoplankton, like sardines or anchovies, this toxin can be transferred up the food chain," said Emily Sekula-Wood, a student at the University of South Carolina whose study appears in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Domoic acid has been linked to deaths of sea lions, whales and other marine animals and people who eat large quantities of shellfish.

"If you consume enough of it, you can get brain damage. In humans it's called amnesic shellfish poisoning. You experience short-term memory loss," Sekula-Wood said.

Large toxic blooms of Pseudo-nitzschia have closed beaches and disrupted the shellfish industry on the US west coast. They have been implicated in toxic blooms throughout the coastal waters of Europe and Asia and North America.


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