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Marine Toxin Found In Flatworms By USU Grad

Sushi eaters may be used to the tingling sensation eating puffer fish produces. But now, the toxin that causes the buzz has been found on land by a USU Grad.

Amber Stokes graduated in 2013, but her dissertation was just published. After a colleague and somewhat worm-expert Peter Ducey noticed a strange behavior between his laboratory flatworms, Stokes dove into research to find out what was going on.

As part of her USU dissertation, Stokes discovered the toxin otherwise found in bacteria, snails and, most commonly, in puffer fish.

"It's found in all of these varieties of different organisms but they're all marine," Stokes said. "So finding it in a terrestrial invertebrate is kind of a big deal."

This lethal compound known as tetrodotoxin, or TTX, blocks electrical signals in both nerve and muscle tissue, resulting in paralysis and, in sufficient doses, death.

"They could potentially help us really understand where tetrodotoxin comes from because we don't really know yet," Stokes said. "We don't know exactly how it's produced or where it's produced."

Stokes used a relatively new saliva technique for testing the toxin, and all research was conducted on USU campuses.

Stokes is now an assistant professor of biology at California State University, Bakersfield.

Brooke Stobbe is a journalism student from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, interning at Utah Public Radio.