Dozens of bald eagles were found paralyzed, convulsing, or dead in Arkansas 25 years ago. The brains of these eagles were marked with lesions and soon enough, other birds turned up pocked with the lesions found in these eagles. Years after the incident, researchers finally identified a novel neurotoxin produced by cyanobacteria and shows that it harms birds, fish, and invertebrates, as Science Magazine details:
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“This research is a very, very impressive piece of scientific detective work,” says microbiologist Susanna Wood of the Cawthron Institute. An unusual feature of the toxic molecule is the presence of bromine, which is scarce in lakes and rarely found in cyanobacteria. One possible explanation: the cyanobacteria produce the toxin from a bromide-containing herbicide that lake managers use to control the weed.
The discovery highlights the threat of toxic cyanobacteria that grow in sediment and on plants, Wood says, where routine water quality monitoring might miss them. The finding also equips researchers to survey lakes, wildlife, and other cyanobacteria for the new toxin. “It will be very useful,” says Judy Westrick, a chemist who studies cyanobacterial toxins at Wayne State University and was not involved in the new research. “I started jumping because I got so excited.”
Image via Science Magazine