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Friday, January 12, 2007

Red Tide Study Backs NC State Scientist

PfiesteriaThe toxin that produced dramatic fish kills in North Carolina and Maryland in the mid-1990's red tides has finally been identified and one NCSU scientist couldn't be happier. JoAnn Burkholder was one of the discovers of Pfiesteria, an odd marine microbe that is sometimes plant sometimes animal, back in 1989 but her research and conclusions have been widely controversial and disputed in the scientific community. In the findings of a 9 year study released by NOAA on Thursday, two specific species of Pfiesteria were identified that transform from harmless microbes into highly toxic organisms that can kill fish. Burkholder was one of the first to blame Pfiesteria for the 1990's red tide algal blooms that killed over 1 billion fish in NC and the Chesapeake Bay. While there is no definitive proof, Burkholder also believes that Pfiesteria can also be harmful to humans. She reports that both she and a former research employee experienced temporary memory and learning problems after exposure in her Raleigh lab. In fact, the NOAA study itself was sparked by Congress after boaters and fishermen in the Chesapeake Bay reported memory problems and other ailments during a red tide in 1997. Luckily, North Carolina hasn't had a Pfiesteria fish kill since Hurricane Floyd flushed waterways in 1999. More on the study is available from the News & Observer; more on Pfiesteria is available from Sea Grant.
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