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Rising Sea Temperatures Could Lead To Rise In Toxic Shellfish: Ingestion Linked To Memory Loss, Death

Update Date: Jan 12, 2017 08:30 AM EST

Who doesn't love seafood? However, seafood lovers might want to rethink their menu after scientists warned that the rising sea temperatures could lead to a rise in a neurotoxin, domoic acid, found in sellfish.

If this neurotoxin is consumed, it could lead to serious health problems in humans like seizures, memory loss, stomach problems and in severe cases, death.

Over the past years, scientists have warned that climate change could have a disastrous effect on the ocean's ecosystems as the world's oceans get warmer. In a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that warmer waters lead to algae blooms that can cause elevated levels of domoic acid in many of the ocean's critters, Smithsonian reports.

"When the water's unusually warm off our coast, it's because the circulation and patterns in the atmosphere have changed, bringing warm water from elsewhere - and this is happening at the same time that we also see high domoic acid in shellfish. It has a very strong mechanistic connection," said Morgaine McKibben, lead author of the study and a doctoral student at Oregon State University.

Using a combination of time-series spanning about 20 years, the researchers showed a clear link between domoic acid and larger climatic phenomena - El Niño events and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. Moreover, they also developed a new model to predict with precision the timing of domoic acid risks in the Pacific Northwest.

"In the natural world there are always variations, and it's been difficult to connect a specific event to larger forces that operate over periods of years and decades," Angelicque White, an associate professor and research team leader in the OSU College of Earth, Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, said in a press release by

"To do so, long observational time-series are crucial. With NOAA's commitment to sponsored coastal ocean research and monitoring, along with state support for monitoring shellfish toxins, we've finally been able to tease out short term variability from natural climate forcing," she added.

What Is Domoic Acid?

Domoic acid is a toxin produced by Pseudo-nitzschia, micro algae which can accumulate in species like clams, mussels, achovy and Dungeness crab. Pseudo-nitzschia enters the marine food web when toxic blooms are ingested by animals.

This neurotoxin can be harmful to both humans and wildlife, including birds. In human, it causes amnesic shellfish poisoning that may lead to various human symptoms like gastrointestinal disturbance, seizures, memory loss or rarely, death. The condition was first described in 1987 and has been monitored since 1991.

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