White-tailed eagles in the USA: what poisons the heraldic animal?

sStumbles or falls upside down and is no longer able to fly, swim or crawl properly. For 27 years, birds, fish, and reptiles in the southeastern United States have been dying of a neurological disease that eats holes in the sheath of nerve fibers and quickly kills them or makes them easy prey for other animals, which also get sick and die. . The heraldic animal of the United States is also affected: the bald eagle. Thus disease also extends into the food chain.

Timo Niedermeyer of Halle-Wittenberg University and Susan Wilde of the University of Georgia in Athens have finally found the exact trigger: a previously unknown neurotoxin, which is unique among neurotoxins because of its special features. This discovery makes it possible to learn more about the effects of the poison and to know which animals are susceptible and therefore potentially endangered. It remains open whether, for example, mammals are also at risk or even humans.

Publication of molecular structure and identification of genes needed for synthesis In the magazine “Science” It is the culmination of a long and arduous search. In 1994, several dead bald eagles were first found near various American lakes, which no longer had intact myelin sheaths, and thus apparently could no longer move in a coordinated manner.


Invasive Aquatic Plant Hydrilla verticillata
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Photo: University of Georgia

The disease has been known as “avian myelopathy”. It soon became clear that the cause could not be an infection or an environmental toxin. Looking for the trigger, Susan Wilde noted that the disease occurs wherever lakes are contaminated with nettle. It is an aquatic plant that was introduced from Asia, Africa or Australia and spread en masse in the United States.

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