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Neurotoxin With Possible Ties To Parkinson's Found In Air Samples

Blue-green algae on the Caloosahatchee River on July 2018. Blue green algae is known as cynobacteria and produces a liver toxin.
Rachel Iacovone
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Researchers from Florida Gulf Coast University have been trying to find how toxic algal blooms would interact with the human respiratory system.

In late November, the group reported the toxic compound microcystin was reaching particle sizes that could reach into human lungs.

Testing kits purchased with the help of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, revealed that a neurological toxin called BMAA, which is short for beta-Methylamino-L-alanine, was also present in air samples.

FGCU marine science professor Dr. Mike Parsons is a part of the research team and says there is data that shows, but also refutes, a link between BMAA and diseases like Parkinson’s and ALS.   

“So it still is a questionable link between BMAA and these degenerative neurological diseases so it does require more work,” Parsons said. 

Parsons also said BMAA was present in samples of nasal, blood and urine taken by the Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute earlier in the fall.

“People are being exposed to it," Parsons said. "Is it a real threat or not? And that’s what we are not sure about.”

Parsons said much more research needs to be done before determining whether or not the neurotoxin can be labeled as a threat to humans. He hopes to collaborate with other institutions and health organizations in the future.

Copyright 2020 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.

Andrea Perdomo is a reporter for WGCU News. She started her career in public radio as an intern for the Miami-based NPR station, WLRN. Andrea graduated from Florida International University, where she was a contributing writer for the student-run newspaper, The Panther Press, and also a member of the university's Society of Professional Journalists chapter.