The origin of the neurotoxin azaspiracid has finally been identified after a search for more than a decade. The azaspiracid toxin group can cause severe poisoning in human consumers of mussels after being enriched in the shellfish tissues. The scientific periodical European Journal of Phycology reports in its current issue (Vol. 44/1: p. 63-79) that a tiny algal species, the dinoflagellate Azadinium spinosum, is responsible. Researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association have isolated and described the hitherto unknown organism as a new genus and species of dinoflagellate. They successfully isolated the organism and multiplied it in pure laboratory cultures, subsequently identifying it as the producer of azaspiracid toxin.
Eating mussels is a special treat for many people, although it is not completely without danger. It has been known for a long time that consumption of mussels and other bivalve shellfish can cause poisoning in humans, with symptoms ranging from diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting to neurotoxicological effects, including paralysis and even death in extreme cases. Although "shellfish poisoning" can also be caused by pathogenic viruses and bacteria, many cases are due to gastrointestinal toxins and/or neurotoxins produced by certain marine microscopic plankton, the so-called "toxic algae". Mussels can filter a high amount of these toxic microorganisms from the seawater column, and after ingestion they retain the toxins and accumulate them in their edible flesh.
Azaspiracids comprise one group of these microalgal toxins The first known azaspiracid poisonings occurred in the Netherlands in 1995 after consumption of mussels from Ireland. While the toxin itself has been quite well investigated, the question of the origin remained inconclusive until now despite intensive research. According to published investigations by Irish researchers, the dinoflagellate spe
|Contact: Ude Cieluch|
Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres