Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Virus implicated in sea star wasting disease

Last fall, after millions of West Coast starfish were found dead and dying, a team of 25 microbiologists, epidemiologists, marine biologists and other scientists from around the country set out to determine what was killing them. Now they have an answer — and even more questions. 
Here’s what they know: The culprit responsible for one of the most deadly marine diseases ever recorded is a type of densovirus, a microbe that usually attacks crickets and other insects. While scientists had never associated densovirus with marine invertebrates before, it’s been in the ocean for at least 72 years: The researchers found traces of the virus in ethanol-preserved starfish specimens from the 1940s and in healthy sea urchins alive today in Hawaii. 
But here’s what they don’t yet know: If the virus has been around for so long, why did it go from benign microbe to purveyor of an epidemic that, since June 2013, has caused up to 95 percent of local sea star populations from Baja California to Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula to dissolve into puddles of goo, altering the makeup of intertidal ecosystems for years to come? 
... Read the rest here

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