New research raises additional concerns about algae blooms

anabena03We know algae blooms represent an unhealthy condition in the lake environment brought about in large part by excess phosphorus and that decomposing cyanobacteria besides being unsightly can release compounds toxic to fish and animals, but now we have an additional reason to be concerned about blooms: new research by scientists in Australia and the US have found clear links between certain toxins produced by the blue-green algae responsible for algae blooms (cyanobacteria) and Motor Neuron Diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s diseases.

There has been increasing evidence of a link between motor neuron disease and the consumption of food or water contaminated by blue-green algae but it wasn’t clear how the algal toxin was damaging the central nervous system. It turns out that blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) produce a neurotoxic amino acid called β-methylamino-L-alanine, or BMAA. BMAA mimics an amino acid called serine that is used to make human proteins. BMAA is mistakenly incorporated into human proteins in place of serine, resulting in damaged proteins which over time, build up to toxic levels and kill the cells.

Here’s an article describing the research around this issue:

Breakthrough discovery links blue-green algae with motor neuron disease

This issue was first brought to my attention last month by Jack Holland who forwarded me an article from Lake Champlain International about the public health consequences of blue-green algae blooms. Now, I don’t think we’re seeing levels of blue-green algae in Clary Lake sufficient to create dangerous concentrations of cyanobacteria toxins but it certainly gives us another reason- as if we needed one- to do everything we can to prevent algae blooms by limiting the amount of phosphorus that enters Clary Lake. Phosphorus transport mechanisms are well known as are the ways to mitigate them. This is the primary motivation behind the Clary Lake Watershed Survey. We’ll post more about this as it becomes available.