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Marine Biotoxin Impacts

Marine Biotoxin Impacts
Blooms of certain microscopic ocean algae can induce seizures and eventually lead to epilepsy. California sea lions are particularly susceptible. Credit: Claire Fackler, NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries

We are developing field-ready tools to accurately diagnose HAB-related illnesses in humans and other animals. We can now test urine samples on site for toxins, and are developing methods to collect and analyze blood for toxin metabolites and proteome biomarkers. Early diagnosis, made possible by our toxin biomonitoring research, provides can reduce adverse effects of HAB toxins on human and marine animal populations.

We also develop tools for evaluating short and long-term prognosis for humans and animals exposed to HAB toxins. Health officials are concerned about how primary effects translate into long-term health effects, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, developmental defects, and neurobehavioral illnesses. We use animal models to study susceptible populations, and work on human and wildlife populations.

NCCOS researchers chart the pathways by which HAB toxins move up the food chain, and integrate these findings with emerging HAB forecasting and risk assessment models. Algal toxins are known to undergo trophic transfer and accumulation in marine food webs, causing intoxication of upper-level consumers such as fish, sea birds, and marine mammals, as well as humans. In many cases the vectors responsible for transferring these toxins from their algal producers to higher trophic levels, the efficiency of this process, and the associated potential impacts, have not been established.