Domoic Acid Decoded: Scientists Discover Genetic Basis for How Harmful Algal Blooms Become Toxic

A team led by scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego and the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) has uncovered the genetic basis for the production of domoic acid, a potent neurotoxin produced by harmful algal blooms.

Harmful algal blooms cause significant economic and environmental damage to coastal communities around the world. These blooms occasionally produce toxins that can sicken marine mammals and can threaten human health when the toxins accumulate in seafood. A high-dose exposure to domoic acid, produced by a type of phytoplankton known as diatoms in the genus Pseudo-nitzschia, can lead to amnesic shellfish poisoning, a potentially fatal condition characterized by seizures and short-term memory loss.