CAMBRIDGE, MA (08/30/2007) - In work that could one day help prevent millions of dollars in economic losses for seaside communities, MIT chemists have demonstrated how tiny marine organisms likely produce the red tide toxin that periodically shuts down U.S. beaches and shellfish beds.
In the Aug. 31 cover story of Science, the MIT team describes an elegant method for synthesizing the lethal components of red tides. The researchers believe their method approximates the synthesis used by algae, a reaction that chemists have tried for decades to replicate, without success.
Understanding how and why red tides occur could help scientists figure out how to prevent the blooms, which cause significant ecological and economic damage. The New England shellfish industry, for example, lost tens of millions of dollars during a 2005 outbreak, and red tide killed 30 endangered manatees off the coast of Florida this spring.
The discovery by MIT Associate Professor Timothy Jamison and graduate student Ivan Vilotijevic not only could shed light on how algae known as dinoflagellates generate red tides, but could also help speed up efforts to develop cystic fibrosis drugs from a compound closely related to the toxin. Red tides, also known as algal blooms, strike unpredictably and poison shellfish, making them dangerous for humans to eat. It is unknown what causes dinoflagellates to produce the red tide toxins, but it may be a defense mechanism, possibly provoked by changes in the tides, temperature shifts or other environmental stresses.
One of the primary toxic components of red tide is brevetoxin, a large and complex molecule that is very difficult to synthesize.
Twenty-two years ago, chemist Koji Nakanishi of Columbia University proposed a cascade, or series of chemical steps, that dinoflagellates could use to produce brevetoxin and other red tide toxins. However, chemists have been unable to demonstrate such a cascade in the labora
|Contact: Patti Richards|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology