Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Red Tide Secrets Unraveled

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Red Tide Secrets Unraveled

Article excerpt

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) chemists have demonstrated how tiny marine organisms likely produce the red tide toxin that periodically shuts down U.S. beaches and shellfish beds. The work could one day help prevent millions of dollars in economic losses for seaside communities.

In the journal Science, the MIT team describes a method for synthesizing the lethal components of red tides. The new synthesis depends on two critical factors: giving the reaction a jump start and conducting it in water.

Many red tide toxins possess a long chain of six-membered rings. However, the starting materials for the cascades, epoxy alcohols, tend to form five-membered rings. To overcome that, the researchers attached a "template" six-membered ring to one end of the epoxy alcohol. That simple step effectively launches the cascade of reactions that leads to the toxin chain, known as ladder poly-ether. The researchers speculate that in algae known as dinoflagellates the initial jump start is provided by an enzyme instead of a template.

The researchers believe their method approximates the synthesis used by algae, a reaction that chemists have tried for decades to replicate without success. Understanding how and why red tides occur could help scientists figure out how to prevent the blooms, which can cause significant ecological and economic damage. The discovery by MIT researchers could not only shed light on how dinoflagellates generate red tides, but it could also help accelerate efforts to develop cystic fibrosis drugs from a compound closely related to the toxin. …

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