Algae and Motor Neuron Disease: Diatoms complicate the picture

30 January 2014

Diatoms - a new source of BMAA (Photo: Bill Harding)

Diatoms – a new source of BMAA (Photo: Bill Harding)

Until now we have believed that the production of beta-methyl amino alanine (BMAA), thought to be implicated with neurodegenerative brain disorders (ALS-PDC), was limited to the blue-green algae (Cyanobacteria). Since 2004 we have learnt that all species of cyanobacteria, or almost all, produce this toxic amino acid.  This finding, backed by some early research, suggested that environmental exposure to lakes or reservoirs containing cyanobacteria, or drinking water derived therefrom, may be a cause for this debilitating complex of diseases.

That was until this month (January 2014).

Beta-methyl amino alanine

Beta-methyl amino alanine

A group of researchers have demonstrated that various species of diatoms, the most prolific group of algae on the planet, also produce BMAA.  If the production of BMAA is more widely spread across the diatom genera then this finding significantly alters the level of risk of exposure thereto.  The work also demonstrates that higher organisms, eukaryotes, can produce BMAA.

Jiang and co-authors conclude, inter alia,  that:

Taken together, the data reported here give a clear answer supported by solid evidence that BMAA is not exclusively produced by cyanobacteria. As diatoms are a major bloom- forming phytoplankton in aquatic environments, the impact of this discovery suggests new bioaccumulation routes and that the risk of human exposure may have increased tremendously. 

(search this blog for several other articles on BMAA)

Breakthrough Discovery Links Blue-Green Algae With Motor Neuron Disease

17 October 2013

(This press release was made by University of Technology, Sydney and is repeated here verbatim as part of Droplet’s information program on the possible links between BMAA and motor neuron disease – search Droplets for ‘BMAA’ for more information).

In summary:

  • For the first time UTS and US research has found a link between toxins produced by blue-green algae and motor neurone disease
  • Over 90 per cent of motor neuron diseases have had no known cause or cure

A recently identified link between a toxic amino acid found in blue-green algae and several motor neuron diseases could help researchers devise a therapy for the fatal conditions. Read more »

Water quality topics we should talk about, but don’t

18 December 2012

One of the top 10 news stories about water during 2012 was the one that entitled “Could tap water cause Lou Gehrig’s Disease” (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, ALS, an incurable neurodegenerative ailment). While the jury is still out on this one, and may be so for a while yet, nothing gets readers more stirred up than the possibility that your tap water could kill you – and in a not very nice way. Read more »

Eat, poop, sleep, repeat: Will it work for algae control?

6 January 2012

No, not talking about the lifecycle of puppies here, but fish.  Droplets readers will have seen last years posts on Lake Taihu in China, a very important water resource but one that is in a miserable condition.  All sorts of attempts are being made as part of desperate efforts to reduce the levels of nutrients fuelling algal blooms.  Now resort is to be made of algae-eating fish – i.e. install thousands of fish and hope they control the problem.

Authorities plan to release over the next few days about 470 tonnes of fish, mainly the silver carp, into the 2,400 sq km Taihu Lake that spans the Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces.

I have some serious doubts about this, for the following reasons: Read more »

CyanoAlert – blue-green algae caused Kansas dog deaths

30 September 2011

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment, in conjunction with the Kansas State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, can confirm that toxic blue-green algae is responsible for the death of one dog and suspected death of two others.    The two dogs suspected of blue-green algae poisoning are presently undergoing testing at the K-State Laboratory. In all three instances, the dogs had been in the water at Milford Lake, which is in Clay, Geary and Dickinson Counties. Read more »

CyanoAlert – scepticism about cyanobacteria and motor neuron disease

13 July 2011

There appears to be more than enough evidence to support a working hypothesis that links a compound (BMAA) produced by all species of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) to motor neuron disease (see earlier blog post).  This possible linkage has been recently summarized in an article by Paul Alan Cox – who has done most of the groundwork on this theory.  Cox’s hypothesis is that BMAA can trigger brain disease only in people who are genetically predisposed.In most people, chemicals like BMAA cannot cross from the blood to the brain. Cox believes a small minority of individuals inherit a condition allowing BMAA to cross the so-called “blood-brain barrier.” Read more »

DHEC surveys links between toxic algae and motor neuron disease

29 May 2011

In a first for South Africa, Dr Bill Harding from DH Environmental Consulting (DHEC) will conduct a research survey to test for links between cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) and neurodegenerative diseases (Motor Neuron Disease, MND; Parkinsons Dementia Complex, PDC;  and Alzheimers). Read more »

Blue-green algae, Alzheimers and ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease)

18 March 2011

Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) are on the increase globally.  HABs occur when large masses of potentially toxic algae develop in freshwater or marine environments. Typically these blooms are fuelled by increasing human pollution of our water resources, most commonly inadequately-treated wastewater, leading to high concentrations of plant nutrients in our dams and rivers.  A large percentage of South Africa’s water resources are already impaired by the sustained presence of blue-green algae.

Blue-green algae produce a large variety of toxins, singularly or in combination.  Recently it has become apparent that all types of blue-green algae produce an unusual neurotoxin, called beta-methyl-amino-alanine, BMAA.  BMAA in nature is only produced by blue-green algae (cyanobacteria). BMAA is neurotoxic and destroys nerve neurons (e.g. Vyas and Weiss 2009).

Research during the past 40 years has sought to link BMAA with motor neuron disease (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and Parkinsons Disease (the so-called ALS-PDC, ALS/Parkinson’s Disease Dementia Complex).  This research has focussed on three locations in the western Pacific where considerably higher than normal incidences of these diseases occur (e.g. Bradley and Cox 2009).  BMAA has been measured in the brains of ALS-PDC cases, but not in control brain tissue, in the aforementioned clusters, as well as in Canada and elsewhere (e.g. Banack et al. 2009).  The effect of BMAA in Parkinson’s symptoms has been confirmed by dosing rats with the toxin (Bradley and Mash 2009).

Read more »