Scientists unravel the mysterious disease of bald eagles


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– For the past 25 years, a mysterious disease has been killing bald eagles in the United States and leaving them with holes in their brains. Researchers identified vacuolar myelinopathy (VM), a deadly condition that causes paralysis, blindness and seizures in bald eagles and their prey, including fish, turtles, snakes and smaller birds, and now they believe they know what caused it, according to Live. Science. Initial suspicions fell on Hydrilla verticillata, a highly invasive plant native to Central Africa and common in fish tanks, which has been taking over lakes in several states. As only a few of those lakes were linked to VM, subsequent research identified a species of cyanobacteria found in certain Hydrilla plants. In a laboratory, the cyanobacterial cultures did not produce any toxins. However, that changed when the researchers added bromide to the mix, according to a statement.

The bacteria produced the toxin called aetokthonotoxin, or “poison that kills the eagle.” Bromide occurs naturally in small amounts in lakes, but is also introduced through chemical runoff and herbicides, which “ironically are used to control the spread of Hydrilla, “according to Live Science. Further research showed that the plant is” capable of enriching bromide from the environment, making it even more available to cyanobacteria, “according to Cabling. “It was only this discovery that let us know that VM is also spreading due to [human] influence, “says Steffen Breinlinger, who worked with an international team of researchers on a study in Science. He notes that VM may never be eradicated from US lakes, but “if we control bromide in reservoirs … ultimately [the cyanobacteria] he will be stripped of his weapon. ” Cabling notes that the effect on humans eating infected animals is not yet clear. (Read some much better news for bald eagles.)

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