Sea star plague virus identified - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Sea star plague virus identified

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KHQ.COM- A silent killer along the Pacific Coast has decimated sea star populations from Alaska to southern California and scientists say they have isolated a virus they believe may be the cause. Scientists say Sea Star Associated Densovirus started hitting the sea star population hard in 2013, killing millions by 2014. The sea stars suffer gruesome deaths that begin with legions forming on their bodies. The diseased invertebrates arms twist in knots, and in some cases the arms will crawl in different directions until they tear away from the body and the sea stars insides spill out.

Tissue samples from sick and healthy sea stars were analyzed by an international team of researchers from more than a dozen universities, aquariums, government agencies and environmental organizations for more than a year to determine what triggered this outbreak.

Figuring out what causes marine diseases is rare. Ian Hewson, a professor of microbiology at Cornell University said, "There are 10 million viruses in a drop of seawater, so discovering the virus associated with a marine disease can be like looking for a needle in a haystack."

Researchers injected material from sick sea stars into healthy sea stars, to see if the virus would take hold and it did. Once inoculated, they died within 14 days.

The densovirus has been in the marine environment at least since 1942, but scientists are still trying to figure out how it transformed into one of the largest marine outbreaks ever recorded. Densoviruses don't usually kill their host body but the Sea Star Associated Densovirus weakens the sea stars immune system leaving it susceptible to bacterial infections, and eventually death.

Research teams from around the world are looking into environmental factors such as warming water and ocean acidification as possible factors that are making the sea stars more vulnerable to infection.





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