Research – Marine Toxins: 5 Poisons Under the Sea


Marine toxins originate from microorganisms native to aquatic ecosystems. These molecules eventually find their way into the human gastrointestinal tract through concentrating and bioaccumulating in species such as mollusks, crustaceans, and various fish. Ingestion of marine toxins can generate foodborne illnesses and a constellation of neurologic and gastrointestinal manifestations accompanied by other symptoms.


Ciguatera illness is caused by ciguatoxins, which are compounds that bioaccumulate in shallow, coastal water-dwelling fish.


Paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) is a foodborne illness brought on by saxitoxin, a chemical compound produced by cyanobacteria of freshwater and by dinoflagellates of marine water. As with ciguatoxin, saxitoxin reaches the human gastrointestinal tract through concentration in species that are higher up in the food chain.


Also a result of toxic algal blooms and mollusk consumption, neurotoxic shellfish poisoning (NSP) is thought of as a ‘milder’ case of the paralytic shellfish poisoning described above. Its cause is brevetoxin, a group of more than 10 lipid soluble polyether compounds.


Tetrodotoxin (TTX) is perhaps the most well known of the marine toxins. Its notoriety arises from the popularity of pufferfish.


A red herring in the recognition of fish food poisoning is scombroid syndrome. This illness is commonly mistaken for fish allergy, but instead results from improper storage and transportation of fish belonging to the Scombroidiae family.

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