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The HAB Five: Anatoxin-a

fab five anatoxin-a jersey picPosted by Stephanie A. Smith, Ph.D.on Wed, Jan 28, 2015

Well, sports fans, here we are with our first featured toxin of the HAB Five:  Anatoxin-a.  Frankly, I don’t know why anatoxin-a doesn’t get more time in the ballgame of toxin coverage, because biologically it’s really fascinating, and it has a big impact on economically important livestock throughout the country.  Anatoxin-a is a really potent neurotoxin, and in spite of the big problems it can cause, biochemically it’s a tiny molecule, and it is quite widespread in freshwater lakes throughout the U.S.  Unlike the liver toxin microcystin, anatoxin-a doesn’t get as much study or as much press, so it’s unclear how widespread it really is.  Here we give it some time off the bench, with our five fun facts about anatoxin-a:

  1. Anatoxin-a has the coolest original name of any toxin ever in the history of the world: Very Fast Death Factor, or VFDF.    Google it.
  2. The organism most often associated with production of this toxin, Anabaena flos-aquae, recently was renamed Dolichospermum flos-aquae. To paraphrase Professor Doug Kane of Defiance College, talking at the Ohio Lake Management Society conference in November 2014, rather than the nickname “Annie” we’ll now have to call this anatoxin-a producer “Dolly!”
  3. Anatoxin-a has a close cousin, anatoxin-a(S), that appears to be at least 10 times more toxic in mouse models, but which is structurally quite different and has a different mode of action.   
  4. In 2013 a hunter in New Mexico came upon over 100 dead elk, a macabre scene that may have caused him to wonder if he should choose a different sport. It was later confirmed (though some scientists remain skeptical) that the elk had partaken of water that was contaminated with anatoxin-a, and it had wiped out the whole herd.  Here’s a news quip on the incident.
  5. And last but not least, one of the first times it was synthesized in the lab, the scientists used cocaine as a starting material! Here’s one of the original papers.

Stay tuned—our next HAB five feature will be another underappreciated toxin—nodularin!

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