The Blob That Ate Toledo

Sorry, the title is from a weak resonance from an old B-grade sci-fi movie (in black and white, most likely) from the deep past.  In Toledo’s case, the blob is a known entity: cyanobacteria.

In their earliest remnant forms, cyanobacteria–or Blue Green Algae–grew in these blobby shapes called stromatolites that you see in the image above.

You’ll find them prominently featured in the early chapters of freshman biology texts, because we credit them with the early colonization of the land and the production of an atmosphere with increasing amounts of oxygen from their photosynthetic way of making a living.

And now, some billion years after those early blobs, the Blue-Greens have come back to impact life on earth again in a significant and news-worthy way.

You’re hearing a lot about the situation we’ve created in Lake Erie by over-feeding the BGs there with too much phosphorus, mostly from agricultural run-off. The toxins released into the water have necessitated draconian limits to the use of the water for almost a half-million people.

What I did NOT know until the past few days (and with not enough time with everything else going on to dig very deep) is THIS connection to BG’s and human health: they may be implicated in Lou Gehrig’s Disease or ALS.  I offer a few sources for your perusal.  And consider the potential ultimate cost of “agriculture as usual.”

A Batty Hypothesis on the Origins of Neurodegenerative Disease Resurfaces – Scientific American

The Emerging Science of BMAA: Do Cyanobacteria Contribute to Neurodegenerative Disease?

Was Lou Gehrig’s ALS Caused by Tap Water? – Pacific Standard: The Science of Society

Are Toxins in Seafood Causing ALS, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s? |




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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Wow. Very interesting stuff — thanks. I happened to be in Toledo when the latest toxicity was “caught” by the water treatment plant guys. But did they **really** catch it on that Friday-Saturday night, or is that simply when they let the City of Toledo **know** about it? I wonder how much I might have consumed during the days before . . . .

  2. I rad the Discover article, and really found it fascinating. I’m glad so many researchers are intrigued with getting to the bottom of this.