A sensitive new genetic test can now detect a crippling disease called QPX occurring in clam beds from Cape Cod south to Virginia and north to Canada. Although it does not affect humans and it is not as well known as red tide, the disease can have a significant impact on a local economy by killing clams and devastating shellfish harvests and commercial aquaculture operations.
QPX - for quahog parasite unknown - is a single-celled organism related to slime mold. It was first detected in 1995 in Provincetown, MA and spread to nearby clam beds, killing nine of ten clams in many of the beds. The disease spreads from clam to clam, infecting the clam by secreting a thick mucus layer to insulate itself from the clam’s immune system.
Rebecca Gast, an associate scientist in the Biology Department at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), has developed a genetic test to detect the organism not only in clams but in seawater and sediment. Since QPX also decomposes seaweed, researchers now believe it can be found in all coastal waters but doesn’t become deadly to clams until it reaches a critical concentration in the water.
Shelley Dawicki | EurekAlert!
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