Published: Saturday 15 April 1995

A team of Californian scientists has synthesised a poison which contributes to the lethality of "red tides" -- the sudden population explosion of certain microscopic algae in coastal waters. This work promises to boost the search for antidotes to treat red tide poisoning and the development of tests which would render seafood safe for consumption (New Scientist).

The algae produce toxins to avoid predation, but a large number of fish and marine mammals can, and do, get killed by red tides. And eventually this contaminated seafood poisons the person consuming it. Apart from the devastating effect on the environment and the danger posed to human health, red tides inflict millions of dollars worth of damage on the shellfish industry.

Led by Kyriacos Nicolaou of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla and the University of California at San Diego, the researchers have succeeded in making a synthetic compound identical to the most important toxin -- brevetoxin B -- produced by the alga called Gymnodinium breve.

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