|FAS Index Search Join FAS|
|ahead Outbreaks Actions Resources Search ahead|
Update: March 2000
PFIESTERIA - "The Cell from Hell"
Scientists at North Carolina State University have confirmed the existence of a second species of Pfiesteria, a toxic microbe linked to fish kills -- and, in some cases, to human health problems -- along the mid-Atlantic coast.
Researchers from NC State's Aquatic Botany Laboratory presented their findings, including a description of the new species, Pfiesteria shumwayae, at the Southeastern Estuarine Research Society conference in Wilmington, N.C.
Dr. JoAnn M. Burkholder, NC State professor of aquatic botany and marine sciences, says P. shumwayae is the second species identified from "the toxic Pfiesteria_complex," a group of closely related dinoflagellate marine organisms believed responsible for killing millions of fish from the Chesapeake Bay to the Gulf of Mexico.
"As our knowledge of these organisms grows and improved techniques become available to detect them, we'll probably identify a dozen separate species," said Burkholder, the world's leading Pfiesteria expert. "We're still just knocking on the door with this discovery." Burkholder co-discovered the first Pfiesteria species, Pfiesteria piscicida, in 1989. "Piscicida" in Latin means "fish killer."
Research under Burkholder's direction at the NC State Aquatic Botany Lab found that P. shumwayae -- pronounced "shum-way-eye" -- is genetically and structurally different from its better-known cousin, P. piscicida.
Additionally, the two species appear to respond somewhat differently to the enrichment of nutrients, often overabundant in coastal waters: P. shumwayae appears to thrive best in waters with high levels of nitrogen, while P. piscicida seems to prefer increased phosphorus levels, although both nitrogen and phosphorus can stimulate it to grow. Scientists first detected P. shumwayae -- which they suspected to be a new species -- during a 1995 fish kill in North Carolina's New River estuary, following a major spill of effluent from a hog waste lagoon.
Burkholder named the new species in honor of Dr. Sandra E. Shumway, professor of biology and marine science at Southampton College in New York. Dr. Shumway is a premier scientist studying harmful algal blooms," she said. "She's done some of the most significant pioneering research on how toxic algal blooms impact wild and cultured shellfish populations." -- Daily University Science News and ProMED/AHEAD-mail