Chelsea Sexton, BS ’14, helps identify mudworms as potential vectors of domoic acid, a neurotoxin, in the Gulf of Mexico

Contact: Chelsea Sexton, chelseamsexton@gmail.com

A new paper coauthored by Chelsea Sexton, BS ’14, finds that a neuorotoxin produced by microscopic algae and consumed by mudworms at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico could end up in human diets via fish and shellfish.

Sexton particiapted in the research as part of a NSF REU program at Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON) in 2012, working under the direction of Nancy Rabalais of LSU. She analyzed the gut contents of fringe-gill mudworms, counting all the microscopic diatoms present in search of Pseudo-nitzschia spp., the source of the neurotixin domoic acid.

“I found that the target polychaete, a very adaptable worm able to survive through the hypoxic dead zone, consumed the Pseudo-nitzschia and therefore could act as a vector for domoic acid through the Gulf of Mexico food web,” Sexton said.

Read coverage from the Times-Picayune/NOLA.com: A tiny sea worm could be a gateway for human exposure to neurotoxin