Some researchers in Australia believe that harmful blooms of blue-green algae that are on the rise again are linked to increasingly high rates of motor neuron disease, a condition which causes paralysis and early death.

ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, which is the most common type of motor neuron disease, is a disease that progressively attack nerve cells, reducing one’s ability to speak, move, and breathe and typically killing patients within two to fours years after diagnosis.

According to a study from Macquarie University, rates of deaths linked to MND have risen 250 percent over the past 30 years in Australia. MND sufferers and scientists are trying to understand why certain areas of the country have especially high rates, which led them to think that an algae called cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, may be the culprit. 

Source: Soil & Water Conservation Society of Metro Halifax

Researches say that Cyanobacteria are known to release a number of toxins, including a neurotoxin called BMAA. Some animal research suggests that BMAA could be one of many factors that leads to the development of motor neuron deterioration. More study, however, is needed.

One such region that currently has outbreaks of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae is Lake Wyangan, a reservoir recreational lake located immediately to the northwest of the town of Griffith in New South Wales, Australia. They’ve currently placed the area around the lake on red alert: meaning people should avoid fishing, and swimming in the potentially toxic water – as well as drinking it.

Even in genetically predisposed cases of MND, environmental stressors like algae blooms could contribute to the disease’s onset and progression, Dominic Rowe, chair of Macquarie Neurology, told the Herald. But more research is needed to better understand how those factors interact.

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