An unusually large bloom of toxic algae, which could poisonboth humans and shellfish, has been detected in the oceanoff the northwest coast of Washington state. OceanographerVera Trainer says,”The levels of toxin are the highest we’ve ever seen.”Shellfish tainted by the same type of poisonous algae offPrince Edward Island in Canada killed 3 people in 1987.

The algae, called pseudo-nitzschia, produce domoic acid,also known as Amnesic Shellfish Poison, which can damage theareas of the brain used for memory and learning, causingpermanent short-term memory loss. It’s lethal in higherdoses. Once it builds up in shellfish, they can remaindangerous for a year.

The bloom is about 30 miles wide, far larger than the normalwidth of only 2 miles. Unseasonably cool weather and rain inSeptember may have caused the bloom to expand over such alarge area.

We’ll see more algae blooms like this in the future, becausealgae respond to an increase in carbon dioxide in theatmosphere by increasing their growth rate in order to soakit up.

Researchers Sinead Collins and Graham Bell raised 1,000generations single-celled green algae under steadilyincreasing CO2 concentrations. As the generations of algaeevolved, some of them developed an ability to concentratemore carbon dioxide within their cells, but they becameweaker when the CO2 levels returned to normal. Theresearchers think that that high CO 2 levels activateharmful genes that stress the tiny plants.

Algae are a vital part of the marine food chain and they?realso vital for us, since they give off a high proportion ofthe Earth’s oxygen.

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