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PLoS One. 2014 Jan 2;9(1):e84578. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0084578. eCollection 2014.

Diatoms: a novel source for the neurotoxin BMAA in aquatic environments.

Author information

Department of Analytical Chemistry, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden.
Department of Ecology, Environment and Plant Sciences, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden.
Sustainable Agro-ecosystems and Bioresources Department, IASMA Research and Innovation Centre - Fondazione Edmund Mach, Trento, Italy.

Erratum in

  • PLoS One. 2014;9(8):e106695.


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig's disease is a neurological disorder linked to environmental exposure to a non-protein amino acid, β-N-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA). The only organisms reported to be BMAA-producing, are cyanobacteria--prokaryotic organisms. In this study, we demonstrate that diatoms--eukaryotic organisms--also produce BMAA. Ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography coupled with tandem mass spectrometry revealed the occurrence of BMAA in six investigated axenic diatom cultures. BMAA was also detected in planktonic field samples collected on the Swedish west coast that display an overrepresentation of diatoms relative to cyanobacteria. Given the ubiquity of diatoms in aquatic environments and their central role as primary producers and the main food items of zooplankton, the use of filter and suspension feeders as livestock fodder dramatically increases the risk of human exposure to BMAA-contaminated food.

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