HR Excellence in Science
Date: 03.02.2022

Hunting the eagle killer: A cyanobacterial neurotoxin causes vacuolar myelinopathy

International team contributed to elucidation of mysterious bald eagle deaths (USA), confirming that the birds have been killed by a cyanobacterial neurotoxin. Cyanobacteria grow on introduced water thyme, entering the food chain, and affecting other organisms. The Czech team identified genes responsible for the toxin production, and explained how toxic bromine is bound into the molecule. The Br source is unknown but pesticides are suspected. The whole issue is a signature of human impact on nature.

Collaborating entities: Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Institute of Pharmacy; University of Athens (Georgia, USA), Mikrobiologický ústav AVČR

Publications: Breinlinger S., Phillips T. J., Haram B. N., Mareš J., Martínez Yerena J. A., Hrouzek P., Sobotka R., Henderson W. M., Schmieder P., Williams S. M., Lauderdale J. D., Wilde H. D., Gerrin W., Kust A., Washington J. W., Wagner C., Geier B., Liebeke M., Enke H., Niedermayer T.H.J., Wilde S. B. (2021). Hunting the eagle killer: A cyanobacterial neurotoxin causes vacuolar myelinopathy. Science 371(6536): eaax9050.

The toxic cyanobacterium Aetokthonos hydrillicola / bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

Laboratory culture of the cyanobacterium was used for genome sequencing and identification of genes responsible for production of the dangerous toxin. In the second illustration, the bald eagle a frequent victim.

Authors of photography: 1. Jan Mareš, 2. Petr Znachor.




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