Saturday, March 26, 2011

Red Tides Research

Red tide more harmful, study finds


Published: March 26, 2011

TAMPA - It took 22 scientists from eight organizations, more than 500 volunteers and nearly $16 million in funding, but officials now have a better grasp on the effects of red tide.

They know now that the toxin can drift as far as a mile inland, meaning that the exposure has a much wider swath than originally thought.

They found that at least 12 different toxins are contained in red tide that can be harmful to people.

They also discovered an antitoxin currently being used to develop a drug to fight cystic fibrosis.

"I think it's tremendous," Barbara Kirkpatrick, senior scientist at Mote Marine Laboratory, said of the many findings of the decadelong study.

Mote worked with the University of North Carolina Wilmington, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state Department of Health and other agencies in the most comprehensive study of red tide, the organism that blooms in the Gulf of Mexico, killing fish and fouling the air.

The drug-related discovery was one of the most exciting for Kirkpatrick. "It's just one of those awesome things that you can't predict in research," she said. "We were researching red tide and now we will help people with cystic fibrosis. That's just cool."

Researchers used to think that people visiting the beach would be OK as long as their exposure was short-lived. Now, Kirkpatrick said, they have found that someone with asthma who visits the beach for an hour during red tide can have problems for days.

They also learned that people inland as far as a mile can suffer ill-effects of red tide, she said.

"The next time we have red tide in town, our message will be a lot stronger," Kirkpatrick said. "Even mainlanders who are near the shore need to be more aware."

It's been five years since the last full-fledged outbreak of red tide.

"That's a Catch-22 when you are studying the critter," the Mote official said. "You actually want the critter to show up."

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