OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

college of science

New electronics for a sustainable world

CORVALLIS, Ore. – New, more powerful solar energy technologies could help reduce carbon emissions, but it will take a revolution in advanced materials to achieve that goal. Fortunately, scientists are well on the way. Doug Keszler, Oregon State University chemist, will describe their progress at the Corvallis Science Pub on Monday, Jan. 14.

The presentation will begin at 6 p.m. at the Old World Deli, 341 S.W. Second St., in Corvallis. It is free and open to the public.

“We all know that water is essential to life,” said Keszler. “With energy from the sun, water is converted to the food that we eat and the oxygen that we breathe by the chemical factories that we call plants.”

Keszler and his colleagues are now developing water-based chemistries that can provide industrial factories with new ways to make solar cells, simultaneously curbing energy use, reducing waste and increasing power output.

Such developments are transforming environmentally-responsible manufacturing, he adds.

Sponsors of Science Pub include Terra magazine at OSU, the Downtown Corvallis Association and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

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Doug Keszler, 541-737-6736

Fossil of ancient spider attack only one of its type ever discovered

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers have found what they say is the only fossil ever discovered of a spider attack on prey caught in its web – a 100 million-year-old snapshot of an engagement frozen in time.

The extraordinarily rare fossils are in a piece of amber that preserved this event in remarkable detail, an action that took place in the Hukawng Valley of Myanmar in the Early Cretaceous between 97-110 million years ago, almost certainly with dinosaurs wandering nearby.

Aside from showing the first and only fossil evidence of a spider attacking prey in its web, the piece of amber also contains the body of a male spider in the same web. This provides the oldest evidence of social behavior in spiders, which still exists in some species but is fairly rare. Most spiders have solitary, often cannibalistic lives, and males will not hesitate to attack immature species in the same web.

“This juvenile spider was going to make a meal out of a tiny parasitic wasp, but never quite got to it,” said George Poinar, Jr., a professor emeritus of zoology at Oregon State University and world expert on insects trapped in amber. He outlined the findings in a new publication in the journal Historical Biology.

“This was a male wasp that suddenly found itself trapped in a spider web,” Poinar said. “This was the wasp’s worst nightmare, and it never ended. The wasp was watching the spider just as it was about to be attacked, when tree resin flowed over and captured both of them.”

Spiders are ancient invertebrates that researchers believe date back some 200 million years, but the oldest fossil evidence ever found of a spider web is only about 130 million years old. An actual attack such as this between a spider and its prey caught in the web has never before been documented as a fossil, the researchers said.

The tree resin that forms amber is renowned for its ability to flow over insects, small plants and other life forms, preserving them in near perfection before it later turns into a semi-precious stone. It often gives scientists a look into the biology of the distant past. This spider, which may have been waiting patiently for hours to capture some prey, was smothered in resin just a split second before its attack.

This type of wasp, Poinar said, belongs to a group that is known today to parasitize spider and insect eggs. In that context, the attack by the spider, an orb-weaver, might be considered payback.

Both the spider and the wasp belong to extinct genera and are described in the paper. At least 15 unbroken strands of spider silk run through the amber piece, and on some of these the wasp was ensnared.

Its large and probably terrified eyes now stare for eternity at its attacker, moving in for the kill.

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George Poinar, Jr., 541-737-5366

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Ancient spider attack


Spider attack

The “slippery slope to slime”: Overgrown algae causing coral reef declines

The study this story is based on is available online: http://bit.ly/QkeZkp

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers at Oregon State University for the first time have confirmed some of the mechanisms by which overfishing and nitrate pollution can help destroy coral reefs – it appears they allow an overgrowth of algae that can bring with it unwanted pathogens, choke off oxygen and disrupt helpful bacteria.

These “macroalgae,” or large algal species, are big enough to essentially smother corals. They can get out of control when sewage increases nitrate levels, feeds the algae, and some of the large fish that are most effective at reducing the algal buildup are removed by fishing.

Scientists found that macroalgal competition decreased coral growth rates by about 37 percent and had other detrimental effects. Other research has documented some persistent states of hypoxia.

Researchers call this process “the slippery slope to slime.”

Findings on the research were just published in PLoS One, a professional journal. The work was supported by the National Science Foundation.

“There is evidence that coral reefs around the world are becoming more and more dominated by algae,” said Rebecca Vega-Thurber, an OSU assistant professor of microbiology. “Some reefs are literally covered up in green slime, and we wanted to determine more precisely how this can affect coral health.”

The new study found that higher levels of algae cause both a decrease in coral growth rate and an altered bacterial community. The algae can introduce some detrimental pathogens to the coral and at the same time reduce levels of helpful bacteria. The useful bacteria are needed to feed the corals in a symbiotic relationship, and also produce antibiotics that can help protect the corals from other pathogens.

One algae in particular, Sargassum, was found to vector, or introduce a microbe to corals, a direct mechanism that might allow introduction of foreign pathogens.

There are thousands of species of algae, and coral reefs have evolved with them in a relationship that often benefits the entire tropical marine ecosystem. When in balance, some algae grow on the reefs, providing food to both small and large fish that nibble at the algal growth. But the algal growth is normally limited by the availability of certain nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorus, and some large fish such as parrot fish help eat substantial amounts of algae and keep it under control.

All of those processes can be disrupted when algal growth is significantly increased by the nutrients and pollution from coastal waste water, and overfishing reduces algae consumption at the same time.

“This shows that some human actions, such as terrestrial pollution or overfishing, can affect everything in marine ecosystems right down to the microbes found on corals,” Vega-Thurber said. “We’ve suspected before that increased algal growth can bring new diseases to corals, and now for the first time have demonstrated in experiments these shifts in microbial communities.”

Some mitigation of the problem is already being done on high-value coral reefs by mechanically removing algae, Vega-Thurber said, but the best long-term solution is to reduce pollution and overfishing so that a natural balance can restore itself.

Corals are one of Earth’s oldest animal life forms, evolving around 500 million years ago. They host thousands of species of fish and other animals, are a major component of marine biodiversity in the tropics, and are now in decline around the world. Reefs in the Caribbean Sea have declined more than 80 percent in recent decades.

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Rebecca Vega-Thurber, 541-737-1851

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Healthy coral reef

Healthy corals

 

Algae covered corals

Algae on coral reef

Vitamin B3 may help in fight against staph infections, “superbugs”

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study suggests that nicotinamide, more commonly known as vitamin B3, may be able to combat some of the antibiotic-resistance staph infections that are increasingly common around the world, have killed thousands and can pose a significant threat to public health.

The research found that high doses of this vitamin increased by 1,000 times the ability of immune cells to kill staph bacteria. The work was done both in laboratory animals and with human blood.

The findings were published today in the Journal of Clinical Investigation by researchers from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, UCLA, and other institutions. The research was supported by several grants from the National Institutes of Health.

The work may offer a new avenue of attack against the growing number of “superbugs.”

“This is potentially very significant, although we still need to do human studies,” said Adrian Gombart, an associate professor in OSU’s Linus Pauling Institute. “Antibiotics are wonder drugs, but they face increasing problems with resistance by various types of bacteria, especially Staphylococcus aureus.

“This could give us a new way to treat staph infections that can be deadly, and might be used in combination with current antibiotics,” Gombart said. “It’s a way to tap into the power of the innate immune system and stimulate it to provide a more powerful and natural immune response.”

The scientists found that clinical doses of nicotinamide increased the numbers and efficacy of “neutrophils,” a specialized type of white blood cell that can kill and eat harmful bacteria.

The nicotinamide was given at megadose, or therapeutic levels, far beyond what any normal diet would provide - but nonetheless in amounts that have already been used safely in humans, as a drug, for other medical purposes.

However, there is no evidence yet that normal diets or conventional-strength supplements of vitamin B3 would have any beneficial effect in preventing or treating bacterial infection, Gombart said, and people should not start taking high doses of the vitamin.

Gombart has been studying some of these issues for more than a decade, and discovered 10 years ago a human genetic mutation that makes people more vulnerable to bacterial infections. In continued work on the genetic underpinnings of this problem, researchers found that nicotinamide had the ability to “turn on” certain antimicrobial genes that greatly increase the ability of immune cells to kill bacteria.

One of the most common and serious of the staph infections, called methicillin-resistant S. aureus, or MRSA, was part of this study. It can cause serious and life-threatening illness, and researchers say the widespread use of antibiotics has helped increase the emergence and spread of this bacterial pathogen.

Dr. George Liu, an infectious disease expert at Cedars-Sinai and co-senior author on the study, said that “this vitamin is surprisingly effective in fighting off and protecting against one of today’s most concerning public health threats.” Such approaches could help reduce dependence on antibiotics, he said.

Co-first authors Pierre Kyme and Nils Thoennissen found that when used in human blood, clinical doses of vitamin B3 appeared to wipe out the staph infection in only a few hours.

Serious staph infections, such as those caused by MRSA, are increasingly prevalent in hospitals and nursing homes, but are also on the rise in prisons, the military, among athletes, and in other settings where many people come into close contact.

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Adrian Gombart, 541-737-8018

Rating of ocean health shows “room for improvement”

CORVALLIS, Ore. – An international group of more than 30 researchers today gave a score to every coastal nation on their contribution to the health of the world’s oceans, which showed the United States as being slightly above average, and identified food provision, tourism and recreation as leading concerns.

The analysis, published in the journal Nature, scored each nation on a 0-100 scale in 10 separate categories such as clean water, biodiversity, food provision, carbon storage, coastal protection, coastal economies and others.

In this “Ocean Health Index,” the world received an average score of 60. The U.S. was at 63.

This is one of the first comprehensive analyses to evaluate the global oceans in so many critical aspects, including natural health and the human dimensions of sustainability. But it’s meant less to be a conclusion, the authors said, and more a baseline that can help track either improvements or declines in ocean health going into the future.

“When we conclude that the health of the oceans is 60 on a scale of 100, that doesn’t mean we’re failing,” said Karen McLeod, an ecologist at Oregon State University, director of science at COMPASS, and one of several lead authors on the study.

“Instead, it shows there’s room for improvement, suggests where strategic actions can make the biggest difference, and gives us a benchmark against which to evaluate progress over time,” she said. “The index allows us to track what’s happening to the whole of ocean health instead of just the parts.”

The scores ranged from 36 to 86, with the highest ratings going to Jarvis Island, an uninhabited and relatively pristine coral atoll in the South Pacific Ocean. Many countries in West Africa, the Middle East and Central America scored poorly, while higher ratings went to parts of Northern Europe, Canada, Australia and Japan.

Human activities such as overfishing, coastal development and pollution have altered marine ecosystems and eroded their capacity to provide benefits, the researchers noted in their report.

Among the findings of the study:

  • Developed countries generally, but not always, scored higher than developing countries, usually due to better economies and regulation.
  • Only 5 percent of countries scored higher than 70, and 32 percent were below 50.
  • Biodiversity scores were surprisingly high, in part because few known marine species face outright extinction.
  • The U.S. received some of its best ratings for coastal protection and strong coastal livelihoods and economies.
  • Global food provision is far below its potential, and could be improved if wild-caught fisheries were more sustainably harvested, and sustainable marine aquaculture was increased.
  • Restoration of mangroves, salt marshes, coral reefs and seagrass beds could significantly improve ocean health by addressing multiple goals at once.
  • About half of the goals are getting worse, and this assessment could be overly optimistic if existing regulations are not effectively implemented.

Other primary authors of the report were from the University of California at Santa Barbara, Conservation International, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. The work was led by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, and Conservation International.

The researchers said they hope the analysis will help inform public policy and management.

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“Selfish” DNA in animal mitochondria offers possible tool to study aging

The study this story is based on is available online: http://bit.ly/OLw6YY

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers at Oregon State University have discovered, for the first time in any animal species, a type of “selfish” mitochondrial DNA that is actually hurting the organism and lessening its chance to survive – and bears a strong similarity to some damage done to human cells as they age.

The findings, just published in the journal PLoS One, are a biological oddity previously unknown in animals. But they may also provide an important new tool to study human aging, scientists said.

Such selfish mitochondrial DNA has been found before in plants, but not animals. In this case, the discovery was made almost by accident during some genetic research being done on a nematode, Caenorhabditis briggsaea type of small roundworm.

“We weren’t even looking for this when we found it, at first we thought it must be a laboratory error,” said Dee Denver, an OSU associate professor of zoology. “Selfish DNA is not supposed to be found in animals. But it could turn out to be fairly important as a new genetic model to study the type of mitochondrial decay that is associated with human aging.”

DNA is the material that holds the basic genetic code for living organisms, and through complex biological processes guides beneficial cellular functions. Some of it is also found in the mitochondria, or energy-producing “powerhouse” of cells, which at one point in evolution was separate from the other DNA.

The mitochondria generally act for the benefit of the cell, even though it is somewhat separate. But the “selfish” DNA found in some plant mitochondria – and now in animals – has major differences. It tends to copy itself faster than other DNA, has no function useful to the cell, and in some cases actually harms the cell. In plants, for instance, it can affect flowering and sometimes cause sterility.

“We had seen this DNA before in this nematode and knew it was harmful, but didn’t realize it was selfish,” said Katie Clark, an OSU postdoctoral fellow. “Worms with it had less offspring than those without, they had less muscle activity. It might suggest that natural selection doesn’t work very well in this species.”

That’s part of the general quandary of selfish DNA in general, the scientists said. If it doesn’t help the organism survive and reproduce, why hasn’t it disappeared as a result of evolutionary pressure? Its persistence, they say, is an example of how natural selection doesn’t always work, either at the organism or cellular level. Biological progress is not perfect.

In this case, the population sizes of the nematode may be too small to eliminate the selfish DNA, researchers said.

What’s also interesting, they say, is that the defects this selfish DNA cause in this roundworm are surprisingly similar to the decayed mitochondrial DNA that accumulates as one aspect of human aging. More of the selfish DNA is also found in the worms as they age.

Further study of these biological differences may help shed light on what can cause the mitochondrial dysfunction, Denver said, and give researchers a new tool with which to study the aging process.

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Dee Denver, 541-737-3698

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Roundworm with "selfish" DNA

Roundworm

Mechanism discovered for regulation of cell division

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Oregon State University scientists have revealed a new mechanism in the process of cell division. Their findings, reported today in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, add vital new details to one of the critical events in the life of a cell and could lead to novel treatments for human diseases from Alzheimer’s to cancer.

The study focused on three proteins that affect one of the central features of cell division, the mitotic spindle. One of the proteins, dynein, is a molecular motor that transports molecules during the development of the mitotic spindle and other structures in the cell. Two other proteins regulate dynein: dynactin, which is essential for linking dynein to other molecules; and NudE, whose depletion in experiments performed on mice produces a small brain and mental retardation.

“Protein molecules require a unique specific shape to recognize other proteins and do their biological function,” said Elisar Barbar, professor of biophysics at Oregon State and leader of the team that performed the research. “What is intriguing about the interplay of these three proteins is that the dynein segment that recognizes both dynactin and NudE does not have a specific shape. It belongs to a special class of proteins referred to as intrinsically disordered proteins. These proteins have multiple shapes and fluctuate quickly among them depending on alterations in environmental or cellular conditions.”

In work supported by the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, the Barbar lab used a powerful tool ideally suited to reveal protein shapes, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, which can show multiple protein forms. The researchers used it to show that a segment of dynein changes shape depending on cellular conditions.

The shift in protein shapes has implications for the regulation of dynein and the formation of the mitotic spindle. The Barbar group found that the two dynein regulators bind to the same segment of dynein. However, dynactin binds to an additional disordered segment. By manipulating the length and chemical modification of this segment, one protein regulator can be selected over the other even when both are present in the same cellular compartment.

These results “offer a novel role for protein disorder in controlling cellular processes,” said Barbar.

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Elisar Barbar, 33 6 12 31 53 60 (in France until July 24), 49-6221-547102 (in Germany July 24 to August 4), 541-737-4143 (in Corvallis after August 4)

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dynein_model.full

Environmental concerns increasing infectious disease in amphibians

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Climate change, habitat destruction, pollution and invasive species are all involved in the global crisis of amphibian declines and extinctions, researchers suggest in a new analysis, but increasingly these forces are causing actual mortality in the form of infectious disease.

Amphibians are now, and always have been hosts for a wide range of infectious organisms, including viruses, bacteria and fungi, scientists said in a review published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

But in recent decades, disease seems to have taken a more prominent role in causing mortality. Because of multiple stresses, many induced by humans, amphibians now succumb to diseases they may historically have been better able to resist or tolerate.

“There’s more and more evidence of the role of disease in the biodiversity crisis, in both amphibians and other types of animals,” said Andrew Blaustein, a distinguished professor of zoology at Oregon State University and author of the recent analysis.

“It’s normal for animals to deal with infectious organisms, often many of them simultaneously,” he said. “But in the face of pollution, a reduced immune response, climate change, evolving pathogens and many other stresses in such a short period of time, many species now simply can’t survive.”

The current extinction rates of amphibians - which existed even before dinosaurs roamed the Earth - may be more than 200 times the background rate of extinction, the scientists note in this report. From an evolutionary perspective, amphibians that survived for hundreds of millions of years may be undergoing a major extinction event.

Because they have both terrestrial and aquatic life stages amphibians are exposed to various environmental forces more than some other animals, scientists say, and a higher percentage of them are threatened with extinction than are birds or mammals. However, similar concerns may become apparent in many animal species, including humans, as environmental changes and stresses grow, they said.

Among the observations in this report:

  • Infectious disease around the world is increasing at an unprecedented rate.
  • Natural stresses such as competition and predation have been joined by human-induced stresses, ranging from pollution to global warming.
  • These forces can reduce immune competence in amphibians, even as climate change, invasive species and other factors increase pathogen spread, persistence, growth and mortality.
  • Some amphibians deal with stress by hormonal changes such as increased production of glucocorticoids, but on a sustained basis, that approach can further suppress their immune system.
  • Warmer winters and night-time temperatures may reduce the cycle of pathogen die-offs that would naturally occur in colder regions.

These forces are complex, the researchers noted. The effects of climate change on amphibian disease, for instance, my cause some pathogens to increase in prevalence and severity, while others decline.

Understanding the driving forces behind these changes, the scientists said, will be important not only to address amphibian declines but also to deal with emerging infections in many other plants and animals, including humans. Such impacts can affect wildlife conservation, economic growth and human health.

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Deformed leopard frog

Deformed frog

Increase in RDA for vitamin C could help reduce heart disease, stroke, cancer

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The recommended dietary allowance, or RDA, of vitamin C is less than half what it should be, scientists argue in a recent report, because medical experts insist on evaluating this natural, but critical nutrient in the same way they do pharmaceutical drugs and reach faulty conclusions as a result.

The researchers, in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, say there’s compelling evidence that the RDA of vitamin C should be raised to 200 milligrams per day for adults, up from its current levels in the United States of 75 milligrams for women and 90 for men.

Rather than just prevent the vitamin C deficiency disease of scurvy, they say, it’s appropriate to seek optimum levels that will saturate cells and tissues, pose no risk, and may have significant effects on public health at almost no expense – about a penny a day if taken as a dietary supplement.

“It’s time to bring some common sense to this issue, look at the totality of the scientific evidence, and go beyond some clinical trials that are inherently flawed,” said Balz Frei, professor and director of the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, and one of the world’s leading experts on the role of vitamin C in optimum health.

“Significant numbers of people in the U.S. and around the world are deficient in vitamin C, and there’s growing evidence that more of this vitamin could help prevent chronic disease,” Frei said. “The way clinical researchers study micronutrients right now, with the same type of so-called ‘phase three randomized placebo-controlled trials’ used to test pharmaceutical drugs, almost ensures they will find no beneficial effect. We need to get past that.”

Unlike testing the safety or function of a prescription drug, the researchers said, such trials are ill suited to demonstrate the disease prevention capabilities of substances that are already present in the human body and required for normal metabolism. Some benefits of micronutrients in lowering chronic disease risk also show up only after many years or even decades of optimal consumption of vitamin C – a factor often not captured in shorter-term clinical studies.

A wider body of metabolic, pharmacokinetic, laboratory and demographic studies suggests just the opposite, that higher levels of vitamin C could help reduce the chronic diseases that today kill most people in the developed world – heart disease, stroke, cancer, and the underlying issues that lead to them, such as high blood pressure, chronic inflammation, poor immune response and atherosclerosis.

“We believe solid research shows the RDA should be increased,” Frei said. “And the benefit-to-risk ratio is very high. A 200 milligram intake of vitamin C on a daily basis poses absolutely no risk, but there is strong evidence it would provide multiple, substantial health benefits.”

An excellent diet with the recommended five to nine daily servings of fruits and raw or steam-cooked vegetables, together with a six-ounce glass of orange juice, could provide 200 milligrams of vitamin C a day. But most Americans and people around the world do not have an excellent diet.

Even at the current low RDAs, various studies in the U.S. and Canada have found that about a quarter to a third of people are marginally deficient in vitamin C, and up to 20 percent in some populations are severely deficient – including college students, who often have less-than-perfect diets. Smokers and older adults are also at significant risk.

Even marginal deficiency can lead to malaise, fatigue, and lethargy, researchers note. Healthier levels of vitamin C can enhance immune function, reduce inflammatory conditions such as atherosclerosis, and significantly lower blood pressure.

  • A recent analysis of 29 human studies concluded that daily supplements of 500 milligrams of vitamin C significantly reduced blood pressure, both systolic and diastolic. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, and directly attributes to an estimated 400,000 deaths annually in the U.S.
  • A study in Europe of almost 20,000 men and women found that mortality from cardiovascular disease was 60 percent lower when comparing the blood plasma concentration of vitamin C in the highest 20 percent of people to the lowest 20 percent.
  • Another research effort found that men with the lowest serum vitamin C levels had a 62 percent higher risk of cancer-related death after a 12-16 year period, compared to those with the highest vitamin C levels.

Laboratory studies with animals – which may be more accurate than human studies because they can be done in controlled conditions and with animals of identical genetic makeup - can document reasons that could explain all of these findings, Frei said.

Critics have suggested that some of these differences are simply due to better overall diet, not vitamin C levels, but the scientists noted in this report that some health benefits correlate even more strongly to vitamin C plasma levels than fruit and vegetable consumption.

Scientists in France and Denmark collaborated on this report. Research at OSU on these issues has been supported by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a division of the National Institutes of Health.

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Fresh fruit

Fresh fruit

Viruses linked to algae that control coral health

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Scientists have discovered two viruses that appear to infect the single-celled microalgae that reside in corals and are important for coral growth and health, and they say the viruses could play a role in the serious decline of coral ecosystems around the world.

These viruses, including an RNA virus never before isolated from a coral, have been shown for the first time to clearly be associated with these microalgae called Symbiodinium. If it’s proven that they are infecting those algae and causing disease, it will be another step toward understanding the multiple threats that coral reefs are facing.

The research was published today in the ISME Journal, in work supported by the National Science Foundation.

“We’re way behind in our knowledge of how viral disease may affect coral health,” said Adrienne Correa, a researcher with the Department of Microbiology at Oregon State University. “If viral infection is causing some bleaching, it could be important in the death of corals and contribute to reef decline. This potential threat from viruses is just starting to be recognized.”

Corals co-exist with these algae in a symbiotic relationship, scientists say, in which the algae provide energy to the coral, and contribute to the construction of reefs. The coral in turn offers a place for the algae to live and provides nutrients for it.

Corals and viruses have evolved along with their resident algae for millions of years. They have persisted through previous climate oscillations, and the presence of viruses within corals or their algae doesn’t necessarily indicate they are affecting coral colony health. If viruses are causing disease or bleaching of colonies, it’s also unknown whether this is happening now more than in the past.

“Corals are known to face various environmental threats, such a warming temperatures, competition and pollution,” Correa said. “Some of the environmental changes of the past were likely more gradual and allowed the coral and its associates more time to adapt.

“The stresses challenging coral reefs now are more intense and frequent,” she said. “This may mean viruses cause more problems for corals and their algae now than they did historically.”

In continued research at OSU, scientists will inoculate Symbiodinium with the viruses and try to prove they are causing actual disease. If the viruses are killing the algae, scientists said, it could have significant implications for coral reef health and survival. There are almost two dozen known diseases that are affecting coral, and scientists still do not know the cause of most of them.

Coral abundance has declined about 80 percent in the Caribbean Sea in the past 30-40 years, and about one-third of all corals around the world are threatened with extinction.

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Bleached coral

Bleached coral