Virus' extensive geographic range and number of species infected might make it largest known marine wildlife disease to date
Museum biological collections are the records of life on Earth and as such, they are frequently used to investigate serious environmental issues. When public health officials were concerned about the levels of mercury in fish and birds, for example, scientists studied museum specimens to assess historical changes in mercury contamination.
Eggs in museum collections were analyzed to establish the connection between DDT, thinning eggshells, and the decline in bird populations. And now, specimens from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM) have helped explain the mysteriously sudden appearance of a disease that has decimated sea stars on the North American Pacific Coast.
In a paper published Monday, November 17, 2014 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Cornell University microbiologist Ian Hewson and colleagues identify the Sea Star Associated Densovirus (SSaDV) virus as the microbe responsible for Sea Star Wasting Disease (SSWD). NHM Curator of Echinoderms Gordon Hendler and Collections Manager Cathy Groves, along with scientists from universities and aquariums along the coast (including NHM neighbor, the California Science Center), collaborated in the study.
Since June 2013, the largest die-off of sea stars ever recorded has swept the Pacific Coast. At least 20 different species of sea stars have been affected -- including iconic species like the "ochre star" and the multi-armed "sunflower star" -- and many populations of sea stars from Southern Alaska to Baja California have already disappeared.
Their large-scale disappearance is anticipated to have a serious and long-lasting ecological impact on coastal habitats, because sea stars are voracious predators, with a key role in regulating the ecology of the ocean floor.
Museum samples prove that the virus has existed at a low level for at least the past 72 years -- it was detected in preserved sea stars collected in 1942, 1980, 1987, and 1991. The study suggests the disease may have recently risen to epidemic levels because of sea star overpopulation, environmental changes, or mutation of the virus.
The study detected the virus on particles suspended in seawater, as well as in sediment, and showed that it is harbored in animals related to sea stars, such as sea urchins and brittle stars. Likely it can be transported by ocean currents, accounting for its rapid, widespread dispersal in the wild. Since the die-off began, the disease has caused a mass mortality of captive sea stars in aquariums on the Pacific Coast, although it did not spread in aquariums that sterilize inflowing seawater with UV light.
"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," Hewson said. In fact, the densovirus is the first and only virus identified in sea stars. However, its discovery will enable scientists to study how the virus infects sea stars and trace it in the ocean. Further research could reveal how the virus invades its host, why kills some sea stars, and why other species are unaffected.
Research might also identify factors that triggered the ongoing plague and help to predict or forestall similar events in the future.
"A recent publication highlighted examples of innovative studies for which museum time-series were integral in identifying responses to environmental change and bemoaned general decline in the growth of museum collections," said NHM's Hendler. "Fortunately, we bucked the trend and intentionally collected common, local species of sea stars, which made it possible to detect SSaDV in specimens from NHM!"
About the Natural History Museum:
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is a national leader in research, exhibitions and education. The Museum was the first dedicated museum building in Los Angeles, opening its doors in 1913. It has amassed one of the world's most extensive and valuable collections of natural and cultural history -- with more than 35 million objects, some as old as 4.5 billion years. For more information, visit the Museum's website at http://www.nhm.org or call (213) 763-DINO.
Kristin Friedrich | EurekAlert!
Successful calculation of human and natural influence on cloud formation
04.11.2016 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
07.12.2016 | Earth Sciences
07.12.2016 | Earth Sciences
07.12.2016 | Materials Sciences