2008 Volume 25 Issue 3 Pages 227-232
The non-protein amino acid β-N-methyl-amino-L-alanine (BMAA) is a neurotoxin that was recently found to be produced by most cyanobacteria. The neurotoxin was discovered in 1967 in the seeds of the cycad Cycas micronesica, but this BMAA may originate from the symbiotic cyanobacterium Nostoc, which inhabits the roots of cycads. BMAA is thought to be the cause of the deadly neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis/parkinsonism dementia complex (ALS/PDC), common among the Chamorro people of Guam. It was demonstrated that the Chamorros, in all probability, have been exposed to high levels of BMAA through dietary consumption of flying foxes which fed mainly on cycads seeds. BMAA production may be a common conserved evolutionary feature among cyanobacteria and due to their wide global distribution, the toxin may be a common concern and potentially involved in provoking degenerative diseases worldwide. BMAA may likewise be bioaccumulated in other cyanobacterial based food webs within ecosystems outside Guam, and it is proposed that such webs may exist in the Baltic Sea, with its massive occurrence of cyanobacteria (blooms).