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Concept: Cyanotoxin


Blue-green algae (Spirulina sp., Aphanizomenon flos-aquae) and Chlorella sp. are commercially distributed as organic algae dietary supplements. Cyanobacterial dietary products in particular have raised serious concerns, as they appeared to be contaminated with toxins e.g. microcystins (MCs) and consumers repeatedly reported adverse health effects following consumption of these products. The aim of this study was to determine the toxin contamination and the in vitro cytotoxicity of algae dietary supplement products marketed in Germany. In thirteen products consisting of Aph. flos-aquae, Spirulina and Chlorella or mixtures thereof, MCs, nodularins, saxitoxins, anatoxin-a and cylindrospermopsin were analyzed. Five products tested in an earlier market study were re-analyzed for comparison. Product samples were extracted and analyzed for cytotoxicity in A549 cells as well as for toxin levels by (1) phosphatase inhibition assay (PPIA), (2) Adda-ELISA and (3) LC-MS/MS. In addition, all samples were analyzed by PCR for the presence of the mcyE gene, a part of the microcystin and nodularin synthetase gene cluster. Only Aph. flos-aquae products were tested positive for MCs as well as the presence of mcyE. The contamination levels of the MC-positive samples were ≤1μg MC-LR equivalents g(-1) dw. None of the other toxins were found in any of the products. However, extracts from all products were cytotoxic. In light of the findings, the distribution and commercial sale of Aph. flos-aquae products, whether pure or mixed formulations, for human consumption appear highly questionable.

Concepts: Algae, Cyanobacteria, Protein, Bacteria, Dietary supplement, Cyanotoxin, Chlorella, Spirulina


We have synthesized cis- and trans-dihydroanatoxin-a and cis- and trans-dihydrohomoanatoxin-a using a short synthetic route. The relative configuration of N-tert-butoxycarbonyl-cis-dihydroanatoxin-a was determined by X-ray crystallography, while that of N-tert-butoxycarbonyl-trans-dihydroanatoxin-a was confirmed by epimerization leading to the cis-diastereoisomer. The relative configuration of N-tert-butoxycarbonyl-trans- and cis-dihydrohomoanatoxin-a was inferred from their NMR spectra. Using an optimized LC-MS/MS analytical method and pure standards we have simultaneously determined anatoxin-a, homoanatoxin-a and their dihydroderivatives in axenic strains of cyanobacteria and in environmental samples from the Tarn River, France. However, in these analytical conditions, the cis- and trans-dihydroanatoxin-a and cis- and trans-dihydrohomoanatoxin-a could not be separated. In axenic strains, the dihydroderivatives represented less than 3% of the total toxin content, while in field samples dihydroanatoxin-a represented from 17% to 90% of the total toxin content. Thus, the reduction of anatoxin-a to dihydroanatoxin-a is predominant in the environment. The ratio of anatoxin-a concentration over that of homoanatoxin-a in axenic strains was variable, and among the eight strains studied we found three exclusive anatoxin-a producers and five producers of homoanatoxin-a and anatoxin-a, the latter representing from 0.5% to 2.0% of the total. In the strains studied, we have amplified by PCR, and sequenced the region of anaG coding for the methylation domain proposed to be responsible for the formation of homoanatoxin-a. The sequences showed at least 88% identity and we could not relate the toxin profile of the strains to the sequence of the methylation domain.

Concepts: DNA, Cyanobacteria, Bacteria, Mass spectrometry, Ratio, Sequence, Tandem mass spectrometry, Cyanotoxin


Cylindrospermopsin (CYN) is a cytotoxic alkaloid produced by cyanobacteria. The distribution of this toxin is expanding around the world and the number of cyanobacteria species producing this toxin is also increasing. CYN was detected for the first time in Turkey during the summer months of 2013. The responsible species were identified as Dolichospermum (Anabaena) mendotae and Chrysosporum (Aphanizomenon) ovalisporum. The D. mendotae increased in May, however, C. ovalisporum formed a prolonged bloom in August. CYN concentrations were measured by LC-MS/MS and ranged from 0.12 µg·mg-1 to 4.92 µg·mg-1 as dry weight, respectively. Both species were the only cyanobacteria actively growing and CYN production was attributed solely to these species. Despite CYN production by C. ovalisporum being a well-known phenomenon, to our knowledge, this is the first report of CYN found in D. mendotae bloom.

Concepts: Cyanobacteria, Cyanotoxin, Cylindrospermopsin


The eutrophication of waterways has led to a rise in cyanobacterial, harmful algal blooms (CyanoHABs) worldwide. The deterioration of water quality due to excess algal biomass in lakes has been well documented (e.g., water clarity, hypoxic conditions), but health risks associated with cyanotoxins remain largely unexplored in the absence of toxin information. This study is the first to document the presence of dissolved microcystin, anatoxin-a, cylindrospermopsin, and β-N-methylamino-l-alanine in Jordan Lake, a major drinking water reservoir in North Carolina. Saxitoxin presence was not confirmed. Multiple toxins were detected at 86% of the tested sites and during 44% of the sampling events between 2014 and 2016. Although concentrations were low, continued exposure of organisms to multiple toxins raises some concerns. A combination of discrete sampling and in-situ tracking (Solid Phase Adsorption Toxin Tracking [SPATT]) revealed that microcystin and anatoxin were the most pervasive year-round. Between 2011 and 2016, summer and fall blooms were dominated by the same cyanobacterial genera, all of which are suggested producers of single or multiple cyanotoxins. The study’s findings provide further evidence of the ubiquitous nature of cyanotoxins, and the challenges involved in linking CyanoHAB dynamics to specific environmental forcing factors are discussed.

Concepts: Algae, Cyanobacteria, Water, Eutrophication, Water pollution, Algal bloom, Cyanotoxin, Paralytic shellfish poisoning


Insight into how environmental change determines the production and distribution of cyanobacterial toxins is necessary for risk assessment. Management guidelines currently focus on hepatotoxins (microcystins). Increasing attention is given to other classes, such as neurotoxins (e.g., anatoxin-a) and cytotoxins (e.g., cylindrospermopsin) due to their potency. Most studies examine the relationship between individual toxin variants and environmental factors, such as nutrients, temperature and light. In summer 2015, we collected samples across Europe to investigate the effect of nutrient and temperature gradients on the variability of toxin production at a continental scale. Direct and indirect effects of temperature were the main drivers of the spatial distribution in the toxins produced by the cyanobacterial community, the toxin concentrations and toxin quota. Generalized linear models showed that a Toxin Diversity Index (TDI) increased with latitude, while it decreased with water stability. Increases in TDI were explained through a significant increase in toxin variants such as MC-YR, anatoxin and cylindrospermopsin, accompanied by a decreasing presence of MC-LR. While global warming continues, the direct and indirect effects of increased lake temperatures will drive changes in the distribution of cyanobacterial toxins in Europe, potentially promoting selection of a few highly toxic species or strains.

Concepts: Cyanobacteria, Temperature, Toxicology, Toxin, Order theory, Microbial toxins, Cyanotoxin, Neurotoxin


Cyanobacteria (also called blue-green algae) are ubiquitous in aquatic environments. Some species produce potent toxins that can sicken or kill people, domestic animals, and wildlife. Dogs are particularly vulnerable to cyanotoxin poisoning because of their tendency to swim in and drink contaminated water during algal blooms or to ingestalgal mats.. Here, we summarize reports of suspected or confirmed canine cyanotoxin poisonings in the U.S. from three sources: (1) The Harmful Algal Bloom-related Illness Surveillance System (HABISS) of the National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); (2) Retrospective case files from a large, regional veterinary hospital in California; and (3) Publicly available scientific and medical manuscripts; written media; and web-based reports from pet owners, veterinarians, and other individuals. We identified 231 discreet cyanobacteria harmful algal bloom (cyanoHAB) events and 368 cases of cyanotoxin poisoning associated with dogs throughout the U.S. between the late 1920s and 2012. The canine cyanotoxin poisoning events reviewed here likely represent a small fraction of cases that occur throughout the U.S. each year.

Concepts: Algae, Cyanobacteria, Photosynthesis, Eutrophication, United States, Algal bloom, Dinoflagellate, Cyanotoxin


The cyanobacteria are a phylum of bacteria that have played a key role in shaping the Earth’s biosphere due to their pioneering ability to perform oxygenic photosynthesis. Throughout their history, cyanobacteria have experienced major biogeochemical changes accompanying Earth’s geochemical evolution over the past 2.5+ billion years, including periods of extreme climatic change, hydrologic, nutrient and radiation stress. Today, they remain remarkably successful, exploiting human nutrient over-enrichment as nuisance “blooms.” Cyanobacteria produce an array of unique metabolites, the functions and biotic ramifications of which are the subject of diverse ecophysiological studies. These metabolites are relevant from organismal and ecosystem function perspectives because some can be toxic and fatal to diverse biota, including zooplankton and fish consumers of algal biomass, and high-level consumers of aquatic food sources and drinking water, including humans. Given the long history of environmental extremes and selection pressures that cyanobacteria have experienced, it is likely that that these toxins serve ecophysiological functions aimed at optimizing growth and fitness during periods of environmental stress. Here, we explore the molecular and ecophysiological mechanisms underlying cyanotoxin production, with emphasis on key environmental conditions potentially controlling toxin production. Based on this information, we offer potential management strategies for reducing cyanotoxin potentials in natural waters; for cyanotoxins with no clear drivers yet elucidated, we highlight the data gaps and research questions that are still lacking. We focus on the four major classes of toxins (anatoxins, cylindrospermopsins, microcystins and saxitoxins) that have thus far been identified as relevant from environmental health perspectives, but caution there may be other harmful metabolites waiting to be elucidated.

Concepts: Cyanobacteria, Photosynthesis, Oxygen, Bacteria, Evolution, Water, Ecosystem, Cyanotoxin


Algae dietary supplements are marketed worldwide as natural health products. Although their proprieties have been claimed as beneficial to improve overall health, there have been several previous reports of contamination by cyanotoxins. These products generally contain non-toxic cyanobacteria, but the methods of cultivation in natural waters without appropriate quality controls allow contamination by toxin producer species present in the natural environment. In this study, we investigated the presence of total microcystins, seven individual microcystins (RR, YR, LR, LA, LY, LW, LF), anatoxin-a, dihydroanatoxin-a, epoxyanatoxin-a, cylindrospermopsin, saxitoxin, and β-methylamino-l-alanine in 18 different commercially available products containing Spirulina or Aphanizomenon flos-aquae. Total microcystins analysis was accomplished using a Lemieux oxidation and a chemical derivatization using dansyl chloride was needed for the simultaneous analysis of cylindrospermopsin, saxitoxin, and β-methylamino-l-alanine. Moreover, the use of laser diode thermal desorption (LDTD) and ultra-high performance liquid chromatography (UHPLC) both coupled to high resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS) enabled high performance detection and quantitation. Out of the 18 products analyzed, 8 contained some cyanotoxins at levels exceeding the tolerable daily intake values. The presence of cyanotoxins in these algal dietary supplements reinforces the need for a better quality control as well as consumer’s awareness on the potential risks associated with the consumption of these supplements.

Concepts: Algae, Cyanobacteria, Photosynthesis, Protein, Quality control, Cyanotoxin, Spirulina, Aphanizomenon flos-aquae


On August 1, 2014, routine testing at the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant in Lucas County, Ohio, revealed microcystin toxin levels in drinking water had reached 3.19 μg/L, surpassing the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drinking water advisory threshold of 1.0 μg/L. Microcystin is a hepatoxin released by cyanobacteria in certain harmful algal blooms. Exposure to microcystin has been associated with gastrointestinal and hepatic illness in both humans and animals (1-3). On August 2, a do-not-drink advisory was issued, warning community members not to drink, boil, or use the water for cooking or brushing teeth. Public health officials used traditional and social media outlets to disseminate public health messages to affected communities. On August 4, 2014, the advisory was lifted after multiple water samples confirmed microcystin toxin levels had dropped below the advisory threshold. To assess communication strategies, water exposure, and household needs, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) and Toledo-Lucas County Health Department (TLCHD) conducted a Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER) in Lucas County. Most households (88.1%) reported hearing about the advisory the morning it was issued, but 11% reported drinking and 21% reported brushing teeth with municipal water during the advisory. Household members reported physical (16%) and mental (10%) health concerns that they believed were related to the advisory and activity disruptions including temporarily staying outside of the home (6%) during the advisory and continued use of alternative water sources after the advisory was lifted (82%). During a do-not-drink advisory, governmental agencies and community partners need to engage in joint prevention and response efforts to decrease water exposure and prevent activity disruptions.

Concepts: Algae, Cyanobacteria, Water, United States Environmental Protection Agency, Algal bloom, Drinking water, Cyanotoxin, Water supply network


Cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms represent one of the most conspicuous waterborne microbial hazards in aquatic environments mostly due to the production of toxic secondary metabolites, mainly microcystins (MCs). Other bioactive peptides are frequently found in cyanobacterial blooms, yet their concentration and ecological relevance is still unknown. In this paper we studied the presence and concentration of cyanobacterial peptides (microcystins, anabaenopeptins, anabaenopeptilides) in 36 Greek freshwater bodies, using HPLC-DAD, ELISA, and PP1IA. Microcystins were found in more than 90% of the samples investigated, indicating that microcystin-producing strains seem to also occur in lakes without blooms. Microcystins MC-RR, MC-LR, and MC-YR were the main toxin constituents of the bloom samples. Anabaenopeptin A and B were predominant in some samples, whereas anabaenopeptolide 90A was the only peptide found in Lake Mikri Prespa. The intracellular concentrations of anabaenopeptins produced by cyanobacterial bloom populations are determined for the first time in this study; the high (>1000 µg·L(-1)) anabaenopeptin concentration found indicates there may be some impacts, at least on the ecology and the food web structure of the aquatic ecosystems. The maximum intracellular MC values measured in Lakes Kastoria and Pamvotis, exceeding 10,000 µg·L(-1), are among the highest reported.

Concepts: Algae, Cyanobacteria, Water, Eutrophication, Ecosystem, Algal bloom, Aquatic ecology, Cyanotoxin