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HOME > PAST ISSUE > July-August 2006 > Article Detail

FEATURE ARTICLE

Protecting Ourselves from Shellfish Poisoning

Molecular probes deployed by California scientists are just the latest weapons in our species' long battle with harmful algae

Mary Silver

Figure 14. Do some entrenched cultural mores...Click to Enlarge Image

In July 1927, the city of San Francisco was gripped by alarm as people began dying after eating mussels gathered on the beach. Within a few years, scientists had identified the cause, a dangerous algal toxin called saxitoxin. Many deaths from algal hazards have been prevented in recent decades by careful monitoring, consumer education and strategic fisheries closings. New research has elucidated the movement of algal toxins through food webs and implicated them in marine mammal strandings; furthermore, archaeological evidence suggests they have been a hazard since ancient times. Protection against algal toxins, a facet of many maritime cultures, is the aim of new technology being deployed along the California coast.


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