Prevalence of algatoxin in the marine environment appears to be increasing

If ingested, for example in seafood, these toxins can lead to discomfort or even illness. The algatoxin yessotoxin (YTX), which is found in both mussels and scallops in Norway, may be a potential disease risk factor in the consumption of seafood. "We don't know the long-term effects of YTX on people", says Monica Suarez Korsnes of the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science (NVH).

Suárez Korsnes has studied the effects of YTX on muscle cell lines from mice and rats.

“We know that an injection of YTX into the abdomen of animals damages heart muscle. To date, YTX intoxication has never been recorded in people, however, we suspect that long-term exposure to this toxin may lead to damage in humans”, says Suárez Korsnes.

The aim of this research is to establish a basic understanding of the ways in which YTX affects cells in the body. Suárez Korsnes has, in her doctoral work, shown that exposure to YTX can initiate a type of programmed cell death, called apoptosis.

“Apoptosis is a method that the body uses to rid itself of unwanted cells. Some toxins, for example YTX, seem to disrupt this natural mechanism and thereby damage organisms”, explains Suárez Korsnes.

An understanding of how algatoxin can affect organisms is important for the quality control of seafood and for responsible management of marine resources. An increased knowledge of algatoxin may contribute to better surveillance of the food chain and to measures that better protect consumers, producers and exporters of seafood.

During the last few decades, the incidence of algatoxin blooms in the ocean has become more frequent. The reasons for this may include spreading of different types of algae to new seas in the ballast water in ships. Other causes may include increased supply of nutrients from land runoff, and also from the air and rain.

Climatic changes, changes in ocean currents and ecological changes may also explain the increasing prevalence of algatoxin.

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