Diverse taxa of cyanobacteria produce β-N-methylamino-l-alanine, a neurotoxic amino acid

Paul Alan Cox, Sandra Anne Banack, Susan J. Murch, Ulla Rasmussen, Georgia Tien, Robert Richard Bidigare, James S. Metcalf, Louise F. Morrison, Geoffrey A. Codd, Birgitta Bergman

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    511 Citations (Scopus)


    Cyanobacteria can generate molecules hazardous to human health, but production of the known cyanotoxins is taxonomically sporadic. For example, members of a few genera produce hepatotoxic microcystins, whereas production of hepatotoxic nodularins appears to be limited to a single genus. Production of known neurotoxins has also been considered phylogenetically unpredictable. We report here that a single neurotoxin, ß-N-methylamino- L-alanine, may be produced by all known groups of cyanobacteria, including cyanobacterial symbionts and free-living cyanobacteria. The ubiquity of cyanobacteria in terrestrial, as well as freshwater, brackish, and marine environments, suggests a potential for widespread human exposure.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)5074-5078
    Number of pages5
    JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
    Issue number14
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2005


    • Biomagnification
    • Neurotoxin
    • Symbiosis
    • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
    • Parkinsonism–dementia complex


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