Biosynthesis of toxic naturally-occurring seafood contaminants

John A. Kalaitzis, Rocky Chau, Gurjeet S. Kohli, Shauna A. Murray, Brett A. Neilan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Citations (Scopus)


Outbreaks of human illness caused by the consumption of contaminated seafood, continues to be a major problem particularly for the shellfish industry. Toxins from marine, brackish and freshwater environments, which are often produced as a result of harmful algal blooms, have been implicated as the causative agents of these poisonings. Commonly, poisoning events have been grouped into one of six classes, Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP), Diarrhetic Shellfish Poisoning (DSP), Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning (NSP), Ciguatera Fish Poisoning (CFP), Azaspiracid Shellfish Poisoning (AZP), and Amnesiac Shellfish Poisoning (ASP). The causative agents of these specific poisonings along with their biosyntheses are discussed in this review. The highly unusual and complex structures of most common seafood toxins have made them interesting targets for biosynthetic studies. Many of the toxins presented are biosynthesized via complex pathways that have been elucidated either through isotope labelled precursor feeding studies and/or characterization of the genes encoding the producing organism's biosynthetic machinery. Feeding studies key to our understanding of a particular toxin's biosynthesis, such as the incorporation of unusual precursors, as well as unique biosynthetic pathways and rare chemical mechanisms involved in the assembly process are highlighted. More recently, however, modern genomics-based techniques have been used for the elucidation of biosynthetic pathways and these are presented in the context of polyketide, non-ribosomal peptide, and hybrid pathway derived, toxin assembly.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)244-258
Number of pages15
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Toxin biosynthesis
  • Polyketide
  • Polyether
  • Ciguatoxin
  • Saxitoxin
  • Tetrodotoxin
  • Brevetoxin
  • Marine algae
  • Harmful algal blooms
  • Cyanobacteria
  • Nonribosomal peptide


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