Algae, Seafood and Domoic Acid: Should You Be Concerned?

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domoic acid
Steamed mussels – yum!

You are aware that an asp is a poisonous serpent or snake. Cleopatra died from the poison of an asp. But there is another kind of “asp”. This kind is an acronym for Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning. What’s that?

Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning

As its name implies, amnesic shellfish poisoning is a marine-related illness. It results from consuming domoic acid, an organic acid neurotoxin produced by algae. The algae is eaten by such marine creatures as shellfish, sardines and anchovies.

It is theorized a major factor in the increase of such poisonings due to a corresponding increase in algal blooms, apparently fueled by climate change. One recently discovered important source of toxic algal blooms is the phytoplankton pseudo-nitzschia.

How Serious a Problem?

The algae most responsible for ASP are those found in coastal algal blooms. So it is that razor clams, which are filter feeders, are particularly likely to be affected among the shellfish. Mussels and other shellfish are also liable, as are mobile shellfish eaters, such as the Dungeness crab.

domoic acid
Shell of a razor clam

So the chain might run: algae is eaten by shellfish, which are eaten by humans. Or it may be algae is eaten by shellfish, which are eaten by crustaceans, which are eaten by humans.

Government agencies alert the public if they determine there is a health risk. The public must pay attention, since the danger is not eliminated through cooking!

The following brief news video illustrates the concerns.

Extra Credit: This Scripps University video briefly discusses the study of how domoic acid is generated by algae due to environmental triggers acting at the genetics level. Enjoy!

Note: You might also enjoy How the Electric Eel Produces Electricity


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