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    Pfiesteria piscicida (P. piscicida) is a microscopic alga that lives in estuaries—where freshwater streams or rivers mix with and salt water—along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Researchers at North Carolina State University first identified P. piscicida in 1988 in fish cultures. Since then, scientists have advanced many theories about the organism’s life cycle and its possible effects on the health of fish and humans.

    P. piscicida is a dinoflagellate, a free-swimming, single-celled organism that uses other organisms to create food from sunlight. Dinoflagellates are a natural part of the marine environment, and most dinoflagellates are not toxic. Some researchers have suggested that P. piscicida produces toxins that might be dangerous to humans, but so far researchers have not identified any such toxins.

    In 1998, Congress appropriated funds to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to address concerns about human health effects possibly associated with exposure to P. piscicida.

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