Detection of the suspected neurotoxin β-methylamino-l-alanine (BMAA) in cyanobacterial blooms from multiple water bodies in Eastern Australia

Harmful Algae. 2018 Apr;74:10-18. doi: 10.1016/j.hal.2018.03.004. Epub 2018 Mar 27.


The emerging toxin β-methylamino-l-alanine (BMAA) has been linked to the development of a number of neurodegenerative diseases in humans including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease. BMAA has been found to be produced by a range of cyanobacteria, diatoms, and dinoflagellates worldwide, and is present in freshwater, saltwater, and terrestrial ecosystems. Surface scum samples were collected from waterways in rural and urban New South Wales, Australia and algal species identified. Reverse phase liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry was used to analyse sixteen cyanobacterial scum for the presence of BMAA as well as its toxic structural isomer 2,4-diaminobutyric acid (2,4-DAB). BMAA was detected in ten of the samples analysed, and 2,4-DAB in all sixteen. The presence of these toxins in water used for agriculture raises concerns for public health and food security in Australia.

Keywords: 2,4-Diaminobutyric acid (2,4-DAB); Algal toxin; Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS); Motor neuron disease (MND); Non-protein amino acid (NPAA); β-methylamino-l-alanine (BMAA).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids, Diamino / analysis*
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Cyanobacteria / chemistry*
  • Environmental Monitoring*
  • Fresh Water / microbiology*
  • Harmful Algal Bloom
  • Neurotoxins / analysis*
  • New South Wales
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry


  • Amino Acids, Diamino
  • Neurotoxins
  • beta-N-methylamino-L-alanine