Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Sick Sea Fans May Help Treat Aspergillosis

Caribbean Sea fan corals (Gorgonia ventalina) are known to be susceptible to infection by Aspergillus - in this case Aspergillus sydowii In a period stretching from 1996 to 2004 many thousands were infected resulting in much damage or even death.
Taken from article in the ISME Journal
In contrast to invasive aspergillosis in most animals, these coral infections are easy to see (see above), causing large purple areas on the large flat coral fronds. This makes them a useful model system for a couple of purposes:

1. A model system to study why sea fans are suddenly becoming infected in large numbers and the relation of this to warming of the seas and global climate warming. Links between the two are thought to be strong - see this paper.

2. Some sea fans did not become infected and this has enabled researchers to find out why that could be, giving us clues to how we could prevent or treat infections in other organisms. Quoting from the original article:
Like all of us, corals get sick. They respond to pathogens (disease-causing microbes) and recover or die. But unlike us, they can't call a doctor for treatment.
Instead, help has arrived in the form of scientists who study the causes of the corals' disease, and the immune factors that might be important in their response and resistance.
With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), scientists Drew Harvell and Colleen Burge of Cornell University and their colleagues have developed a catalog of genes that, the researchers say, will allow us to better understand the immune systems of corals called sea fans.
If any of these coral genes are unique this may give us insight into the development of a new type of treatment or antifungal drug, potentially helping animals or plants that have become infected

The original article goes on to talk about other infections of sea fans  and the wider implications for all undersea life of global warming.

Original article

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