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New Centers for Oceans and Human Health.

One in twenty: that's the percentage of people who develop rashes, nausea, or other symptoms after swimming in marine waters with levels of pollution deemed acceptable by the European Union European Union (EU), name given since the ratification (Nov., 1993) of the Treaty of European Union, or Maastricht Treaty, to the

European Community
 and the U.S Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), independent agency of the U.S. government, with headquarters in Washington, D.C. It was established in 1970 to reduce and control air and water pollution, noise pollution, and radiation and to ensure the safe handling and , according to the World Health Organization. Most people infected by pathogens in the water generally will recover quickly, as will those exposed to harmful algal blooms (HABs), sometimes known as red tides. But in rare cases, especially among the young or the elderly, illnesses can be severe, resulting in life-threatening infections or--in the case of exposure to algal algal

pertaining to or caused by algae.

algal infection
is very rare but systemic and udder infections are recorded. See protothecosis.

algal mastitis
the algae Prototheca trispora and P.
 toxins--paralysis, neurological disorders, and death.

With the aim of reducing disease and death among people who eat seafood and swim in oceans and bays, scientists at four new research centers will study the ecology, oceanography oceanography, study of the seas and oceans. The major divisions of oceanography include the geological study of the ocean floor (see plate tectonics) and features; physical oceanography, which is concerned with the physical attributes of the ocean water, such as , genetics, and health effects of marine pathogens. Center scientists will also search for new marine sources of antibiotics and other drugs. The National Science Foundation (NSF NSF - National Science Foundation ) and the NIEHS NIEHS National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIH, DHHS)  announced funding for the four joint Centers for Oceans and Human Health on 22 April 2004. The two agencies will invest about $5 million annually for a total of $25 million to support the centers, which are located at the University of Washington, the University of Hawaii (body, education) University of Hawaii - A University spread over 10 campuses on 4 islands throughout the state.

See also Aloha, Aloha Net.
, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, at Woods Hole, Mass.; est. 1930. In addition to oceanographic research, it conducts important work in meteorology, biology, geology, and geophysics. , and the University of Miami This article is about the university in Coral Gables, Florida. For the university in Oxford, Ohio, see Miami University.

The University of Miami (also known as Miami of Florida,[2] UM,[3] or just The U

"Oceans have become conduits for a number of environmental threats to human health," said NIEHS director Kenneth Olden old·en  
Of, relating to, or belonging to time long past; old or ancient: olden days.

[Middle English : old, old; see old + -en, adj.
 at the time of the centers' announcement. "At the same time, oceans harbor a diverse array of organisms that show great promise for providing new drugs to combat cancer and fight infectious diseases. In order to guard against health threats and to take advantage of medicinal benefits that oceans might provide, the impact of oceans on human health must be more fully explored."

"The NIEHS has recognized the linkage between oceans and human health for a number of years, as evidenced by its support of marine-related research projects on the effects of toxins from HABs and contaminated seafood consumption, and a set of Freshwater and Marine Biological Research Centers," says center program administrator Fred Tyson. "Moreover, the NIEHS has embraced the concept of using multi- and interdisciplinary approaches to address complex environmental health issues with programs such as its Centers for Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research and Centers for Population Health and Health Disparities."

"I'm glad to see the NSF and the NIEHS involved in this," says Walter McLeod, president of the Clean Beaches Council, a nonprofit group that sponsors the Blue Wave Campaign certification program for environmentally conscious beaches. "It's a long overdue area of research, and the right kind of project for the beach-going public." Adds David Helvarg, president of the Blue Frontier Campaign The Blue Frontier Campaign is a United States marine conservation activist organization founded by David Helvarg in 2003.

The Campaign has established a nationwide network of grassroots (the marine conservation community or Blue Movement calls this 'seaweed') lobbyists.
, an education and activism group, "We've looked at the positive health impacts of going to the beach without looking at the impacts of using the oceans as our toilet and our wastebasket."

Senator Ernest F. Hollings (D-SC) stated before the U.S. Senate on 24 March 2004 that the centers "show tremendous promise." Hollings, a sponsor of the Oceans and Human Health Act, which passed the Senate in March, has said, "Because oceans act as a route of exposure for human disease through ingestion ingestion /in·ges·tion/ (-chun) the taking of food, drugs, etc., into the body by mouth.

1. The act of taking food and drink into the body by the mouth.

 of contaminated seafood or direct contact with saltwater containing toxins and disease-causing organisms, it is vital that we learn more about how public health is affected by the marine environment."

Harmful Algal Blooms

No one is sure why algae algae (ăl`jē) [plural of Lat. alga=seaweed], a large and diverse group of primarily aquatic plantlike organisms. These organisms were previously classified as a primitive subkingdom of the plant kingdom, the thallophytes (plants that  rapidly increase in abundance, or "bloom," and why some blooms produce toxins and others do not. Gaining a better understanding of the factors that cause HABs is a primary research focus of all four centers. Each center will study conditions, such as currents, salinity, water temperature, and nutrient loading, that may trigger blooms and the release of toxins. Center researchers will also study blooms at the microscopic level, using genetic analysis to identify the different species and subspecies subspecies, also called race, a genetically distinct geographical subunit of a species. See also classification.  that bloom under various conditions. The ultimate goal of such research is to find better ways to predict blooms and detect the toxins they produce, thus reducing human exposure and disease. For example, the results of genetic studies could be used to develop molecular probes to detect toxic species and prevent exposure.

Once toxins accumulate in the water during certain blooms, swimmers and beach goers can be affected through skin contact or by swallowing water or inhaling aerosolized Adj. 1. aerosolized - in the form of ultramicroscopic solid or liquid particles dispersed or suspended in air or gas

gaseous - existing as or having characteristics of a gas; "steam is water is the gaseous state"
 spray. However, eating seafood is the most common route of exposure. Algal toxins work their way up the food chain by accumulating in the digestive tracts, and sometimes the muscle tissue, of fish and shellfish. In the United States, few people eat tainted shellfish, thanks to monitoring programs that close commercial and recreational shellfish beds if toxins are detected. However, there are serious gaps in toxin protection programs for tropical and subtropical sub·trop·i·cal  
Of, relating to, or being the geographic areas adjacent to the Tropics.


of the region lying between the tropics and temperate lands


One reason is a lack of programs that regularly test for the ciguatera ciguatera /ci·gua·te·ra/ (se?gwah-ta´rah) a form of ichthyosarcotoxism, marked by gastrointestinal and neurologic symptoms due to ingestion of tropical or subtropical marine fish that have ciguatoxin in their tissues.  toxins found in tropical reef fish. Another is the high cost of most existing testing programs for all types of HABs. "We need to develop low-cost, effective monitoring protocols affordable by poor populations in tropical and subtropical regions," says Lora Fleming, director of the University of Miami's Center for Subtropical and Tropical Oceans and Human Health. "HAB HAB

See: House Air Waybill
 poisoning is a problem in these areas because poverty precludes expensive monitoring." For example, in a case in Guatemala, 187 people contracted paralytic shellfish poisoning Paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) is one of the four recognised syndromes of shellfish poisoning (the others being neurologic shellfish poisoning, diarrheal shellfish poisoning and amnesic shellfish poisoning). , and 26 died, including half of the children who were exposed. Further, says Fleming, organisms and their associated toxins and diseases can turn up in new geographic locations and new transvectors. While this can happen in developed nations, too, those countries can better afford to evaluate the outbreaks that result and sometimes even prevent them.

Many existing tests for algal toxins use mouse bioassays, which are costly and time-consuming. "We are hoping to develop more efficient ways to detect toxins," says Edward Laws, director of the University of Hawaii's Pacific Research Center for Marine Biomedicine biomedicine /bio·med·i·cine/ (bi?o-med´i-sin) clinical medicine based on the principles of the natural sciences (biology, biochemistry, etc.).biomed´ical


Another issue with current testing is that existing monitoring programs are designed to detect relatively high toxin levels that cause noticeable illness. Don Anderson, a senior scientist at Woods Hole, says harvesting closures typically occur only after toxins reach certain threshold concentrations, such as 80 micrograms of saxitoxin saxitoxin /saxi·tox·in/ (sak´si-tok?sin) a powerful neurotoxin synthesized and secreted by certain dinoflagellates, which accumulates in the tissues of shellfish feeding on the dinoflagellates and may cause a severe toxic reaction in  per 100 grams of meat, or 20 micrograms of domoic acid domoic acid An excitatory kainic acid analogue and neurotoxic glutamate agonist, which ↑ neuronal activity, causing food poisoning  per gram of meat. "It is therefore possible for products to be sold and consumed that contain low levels of toxins that are detectable, but below these thresholds," he says. "We do not know the effects of long-term exposure to these low levels, especially in sensitive segments of the population, such as the elderly and children."

The interdisciplinary center teams will study several types of algal toxins that cause human illness. Researchers at the Woods Hole Center for Oceans and Human Health will focus on saxitoxins, a group of more than 20 neurotoxins that cause paralytic shellfish poisoning. Saxitoxins attack the nervous system, causing numbness, dizziness, headache, and in the worst cases, respiratory failure Respiratory Failure Definition

Respiratory failure is nearly any condition that affects breathing function or the lungs themselves and can result in failure of the lungs to function properly.
. In the oceans, they are produced by dinoflagellates dinoflagellates

minute aquatic protozoa; they produce red pigment and toxins which are taken up by shellfish without apparent ill effect, but the toxin is not metabolized and the shellfish may poison animals if eaten.
, single-celled organisms distinguished by dual flagella flagella /fla·gel·la/ (flah-jel´ah) [L.] plural of flagellum.
, or hair-like structures, that propel them through the water.

The Woods Hole team will focus on two species of algae: Alexandrium fundyense, which produces saxitoxins, and A. ostenfeldii, which also generates spirolides, a type of neurotoxin neurotoxin /neu·ro·tox·in/ (noor´o-tok?sin) a substance that is poisonous or destructive to nerve tissue.

See neurolysin.
 first detected off Nova Scotia in 1995. Spirolides kill mice quickly. However, "there is as yet no [human] poisoning syndrome linked to spirolides, and thus far, no monitoring for spirolides anywhere in the United States," says Anderson.

"Efforts to predict or forecast toxicity in the future will have to recognize that we are not just dealing with a single species but rather a complex of strains or subpopulations that will respond differently to the environment," continues Anderson. For example, in the Woods Hole researchers' study area off the coast of Maine, Anderson predicts that researchers will find multiple varieties of Alexandrium that vary significantly in toxicity, physiology, and behavior--for example, some will grow faster, others will swim faster, still others may migrate vertically in different patterns. "Our objective is to develop genetic markers that will distinguish among the different genotypes, and then to map out their distributions," Anderson says.

Researchers at the University of Miami will study a subtropical species of dinoflagellate dinoflagellate

Any of numerous one-celled, aquatic organisms that have two dissimilar flagella and characteristics of both plants (algae) and animals (protozoans). Most are microscopic and marine.
 (Karenia brevis, formerly Gymnodinium breve BREVE, practice. A writ in which the cause of action is briefly stated, hence its name. Fleta, lib. 2, c. 13, Sec. 25; Co. Lit. 73 b.
     2. Writs are distributed into several classes.
) that produces brevetoxins, the cause of neurotoxic neurotoxic

pertaining to or emanating from a neurotoxin.

neurotoxic state
a case of poisoning by a neurotoxin.

neurotoxic adjective
 shellfish poisoning. Neurotoxic shellfish poisoning is similar to paralytic shellfish poisoning, but with somewhat milder symptoms. "With [neurotoxic shellfish poisoning], the primary concern used to be eating seafood. But now we have concerns about skin contact and drinking water drinking water

supply of water available to animals for drinking supplied via nipples, in troughs, dams, ponds and larger natural water sources; an insufficient supply leads to dehydration; it can be the source of infection, e.g. leptospirosis, salmonellosis, or of poisoning, e.g.
," says Fleming. There is also evidence that the toxins can be aerosolized, because people have developed asthma-like symptoms while simply walking on the beach and, presumably pre·sum·a·ble  
That can be presumed or taken for granted; reasonable as a supposition: presumable causes of the disaster.
, inhaling minute amounts of sea spray.

Researchers at the University of Hawaii are studying another warm-water dinoflagellate (Gambierdiscus toxicus Gambierdiscus toxicus

marine dinoflagellate; the main source of toxins responsible for ciguatera.
) that produces the ciguatoxins that cause ciguatera fish poisoning. People are most often exposed by eating reef fish such as barracuda barracuda, slender, elongated fish of tropical seas. Barracudas have long snouts and projecting lower jaws armed with large, sharp-edged teeth. They are ferocious, striking at anything that gleams, and are considered excellent game fishes.  and grouper grouper, common name for a large carnivorous member of the family Serranidae (sea bass family), abundant in tropical and subtropical seas and highly valued as food fish. . Symptoms--which can include gastrointestinal distress, blurred vision, irregular heartbeat, depression, and the reversal of temperature sensations (hot things feel cold and vice versa)--can last months after exposure. Like other diseases caused by algal toxins, ciguatera fish poisoning is underreported. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), agency of the U.S. Public Health Service since 1973, with headquarters in Atlanta; it was established in 1946 as the Communicable Disease Center. , perhaps 50,000 people worldwide suffer from ciguatera, but only 2-10% of U.S. cases are reported.

The Hawaii team will work on molecular probes and markers with the goal of eventually developing monitoring systems that could be used throughout Pacific and Caribbean waters. Reef fish usually are not migratory, so specific reefs could be monitored and marked the same way shellfish beds are to reduce exposures, says Fleming: "Fishermen tell us they don't fish certain reefs because there's ciguatera there." An added benefit to ciguatera reef closures, she adds, is that they could protect reef fish from overharvest.

Domoic acid caught the attention of medical and oceanographic researchers when it was found in mussels that sickened more than 100 people and killed 3 in a 1987 outbreak in Canada's Prince Edward Island Prince Edward Island, province (2001 pop. 135,294), 2,184 sq mi (5,657 sq km), E Canada, off N.B. and N.S. Geography

One of the Maritime Provinces, Prince Edward Island lies in the Gulf of St.
. Once a test for domoic acid was developed, it was detected in razor clams in Washington State and Dungeness crabs in Alaska. Domoic acid causes amnesic shellfish poisoning Amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP) is one of the four recognised syndromes of shellfish poisoning, which are primarily associated with bivalve mollusks (such as mussels, clams, oysters and scallops). , a neurological illness with symptoms ranging from gastrointestinal distress to permanent loss of short-term memory. Birds and mammals can also be affected. Researchers now suspect that a 1961 incident in Capitola, California, in which nonviolent seabirds attacked people and dive-bombed windows (later inspiring the Alfred Hitchcock thriller The Birds) was caused when the birds ate fish tainted with domoic acid. Many recent seabird and marine mammal mortalities on the East and West coasts have been linked to domoic acid moving through the food web, even to whales.

Researchers at the University of Washington Pacific Northwest Center for Human Health and Ocean Sciences, directed by Elaine Faustman, will study environmental factors associated with blooms of single-celled plankton plankton: see marine biology.

Marine and freshwater organisms that, because they are unable to move or are too small or too weak to swim against water currents, exist in a drifting, floating state.
 called diatoms diatoms

a series of unicellular algae, microscopic in size, with cell walls containing silica. Members of the family Diatomaceae. Their remains accumulate as geological deposits and are mined. See diatomaceous earth.
 (Pseudo-nitzsehia spp.) that produce domoic acid. Studies will compare conditions in the open Pacific with the more enclosed, estuarine es·tu·a·rine  
1. Of, relating to, or found in an estuary.

2. Geology Formed or deposited in an estuary.

Adj. 1. estuarine - of or relating to or found in estuaries
 waters of Puget Sound, where domoic acid was detected in 2003. The researchers will also analyze the molecular mechanisms by which domoic acid kills nerve cells, as well as examine possible reasons why some shellfish, such as razor clams, retain domoic acid for weeks or months, while other species eliminate the toxin quickly.

Of particular concern to these researchers is determining who is at greatest risk of neurological damage from exposure to domoic acid. Susceptible individuals may include members of Native American tribes and Asian/Pacific Islander groups, who tend to eat much more seafood than other groups and who sometimes eat parts of shellfish where the toxin accumulates, such as the hepatopancreas The hepatopancreas is an organ of the digestive tract of arthropods, gastropods and fish. It provides the functions which in mammals are provided separately by the liver and pancreas. . In addition, children and the elderly are potentially more vulnerable to the effects of domoic acid and other algal toxins.

Parasitic Protists and Bacteria

In addition to algal toxins, which cannot be passed from one person to the next, center researchers will also study infectious agents of disease. Researchers at Woods Hole will study the prevalence and ecology of a range of bacteria and parasitic protists including amoebae in temperate waters, while the centers at Miami and Hawaii will focus on developing better indicators for infectious pathogens in warmer waters.

The Woods Hole researchers will study Mount Hope Bay in Massachusetts, where warm water discharged from a power plant may encourage the growth of pathogens that would not normally be found there. According to center director John Stegeman, many pathogens enter marine waters, especially through sewage, but "whether they survive marine conditions or accumulate in concentrations that could be vectored back to humans is a question."

The group will study the ecology of several types of bacteria in the same genus (Vibrio vibrio

Any of a group of aquatic, comma-shaped bacteria in the family Vibrionaceae. Some species cause serious diseases in humans and other animals. They are gram-negative (see
) as the species that causes cholera. They will also hunt for rarer organisms, including amoebae that harbor the bacterium that causes Legionnaire disease (Legionella pneumophila) and a parasitic amoeba amoeba: see ameba.

One-celled protozoan that can form temporary extensions of cytoplasm (pseudopodia) in order to move about. Some amoebas are found on the bottom of freshwater streams and ponds.
 (Naegleria fowleri) that thrives in warm water and travels up the noses of swimmers and divers to cause rare, but often fatal, infections of the nervous system and brain.

Researchers at the Hawaii and Miami centers will search for microorganisms that can serve as better indicators of marine pathogens. "A problem is that a lot of the indicators commonly in use have nonfecal sources, or they aren't appropriate for tropical or subtropical waters," says Laws. He adds that recent studies have shown that Enterococcus enterococcus /en·tero·coc·cus/ (en?ter-o-kok´us) pl. enterococ´ci   an organism belonging to the genus Enterococcus.
Enterococcus /En·tero·coc·cus/ (
 species--the standard indicator recommended by the U.S. Environmental Prevention Agency--grow naturally in the soil of Hawaii, and probably other tropical areas, and so don't necessarily signal fecal pollution.

Pharmaceuticals from the Sea

At the same time as the center researchers study marine organisms that harm, they will also prospect for those that heal. "Scientists believe the oceans represent a promising source of novel compounds with therapeutic and/or disease-fighting capabilities," Hollings said in his 24 March 2004 address to the U.S. Senate. "At present, there are only three marine compounds in clinical use--and these were developed in the 1950s. While there are some new compounds in the pipeline, we need to speed research efforts to ensure we get more products approved."

In their search for pharmaceuticals, center researchers at the University of Hawaii will focus on marine microbes. "The fact is that there are more microbes in the ocean than there are stars in the sky," says Helvarg. "It's reasonable to assume that some have devised biochemical defenses to protect themselves from potential enemies, and that some of those biochemical defenses may involve compounds of interest to humans."

The Hawaii team will screen microbe microbe /mi·crobe/ (mi´krob) a microorganism, especially a pathogenic one such as a bacterium, protozoan, or fungus.micro´bialmicro´bic

 extracts for tumor-fighting and antibiotic properties, working in collaboration with the University of Hawaii Cancer Research Center and private laboratories. Given recent results from other laboratories, it's possible that center researchers may find compounds in both categories. Researchers affiliated with the National Cancer Institute and other groups have extracted compounds from marine sponges and corals that inhibit the growth of tumor cells, and a group from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography Scripps Institution of Oceanography: see California, Univ. of.  has isolated marine bacteria closely related to the terrestrial organisms from which antimycin antibiotics were originally derived.

Helvarg's enthusiasm for such research is tempered by concerns about continuing degradation of the marine environment. The discovery of new marine pharmaceuticals is possible only "if we can explore these marine environments before we destroy them," he says. McLeod anticipates that research by the centers and other groups could support efforts to protect and restore marine habitats by creating "a groundswell of data for decision makers." According to Helvarg, the key message for citizens and government is simply that "when we dump into the ocean, we put our own lives at risk."
Centers for Oceans and Human Health

Center                Director              Areas of Study

Pacific Northwest     Elaine Faustman       Researchers will study
Center for Human                            toxic algae and how
Health and Ocean                            toxic domoic acid
Sciences                                    accumulates in Puget
University of                               Sound shellfish.
Washington                                  Researchers will also
                                            study how domoic acid
                                            affects human health
                                            through the consumption
                                            of contaminated
                                            seafood, especially in
                                            sensitive populations
                                            such as children.

Pacific Research      Edward Laws           Researchers will study
Center for Marine                           ciguatoxin-producing
Biomedicine                                 organisms and develop
University of                               improved methods for
Hawaii                                      detecting these toxins
                                            in fish and humans.
                                            Researchers will also
                                            Study pathogens in
                                            tropical coastal waters
                                            to learn more about
                                            their sources,
                                            survival, and ecology,
                                            and explore extracts
                                            from tropical
                                            microorganisms and
                                            their potential
                                            application in the
                                            treatment of cancer and
                                            infectious diseases.

Woods Hole Center     John Stegeman         Researchers will study
for Oceans and                              populations of the
Human Health                                toxic plankton
Woods Hole                                  Alexandrium in the Gulf
Oceanographic                               of Maine and the
Institution                                 relationship of its
                                            various genotypes to
                                            its toxicity.
                                            Researchers will also
                                            study human pathogens
                                            in Mount Hope Bay.

Center for            Lora Fleming          Researchers will study
Subtropical and                             harmful algal blooms in
Tropical Oceans and                         subtropical ecosystems
Human Health                                and develop probes to
University of Miami                         identify new species
                                            and toxins. Algal
                                            genomics will be
                                            studied to see if
                                            different genotypes are
                                            more successful during
                                            algal blooms.
                                            Researchers will also
                                            investigate microbes in
                                            coastal waters and
                                            their effects on human
                                            health in recreational
COPYRIGHT 2004 National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:Environews / NIEHS News
Author:Freeman, Kris
Publication:Environmental Health Perspectives
Date:Jun 1, 2004
Previous Article:Environmental heroes.
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