Environmental Protection

Toxic Algae Growth Created by Ocean Nitrogen

According to a new study in the Journal of Phycology, ocean nitrogen caused by pollution and natural sources sparks the growth of toxic phytoplankton species, which is very harmful to marine life and human health.

In a study conducted by researchers from San Francisco State University, evidence was found that nitrogen entering the ocean boosts the growth and toxicity of a group of phytoplankton that can cause the human illness Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning.

Found most commonly in marine waters off the North American West Coast, these phytoplankton cells produce a potent toxin called domoic acid. This acid can put human health at risk if it accumulates in shellfish and can also cause death and illness among marine mammals and seabirds that eat small fish that feed on plankton.

"This is the first physiological study to look at the environmental conditions that promote both the growth and the toxicity of these small diatoms," Cochlan said. "The findings may shed light on why these microorganisms produce a potent neurotoxin and what the ecological advantage is for the phytoplankton producing it."

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