White Plague

Difficulties associated with isolating, culturing, and manipulating potential pathogens as well as in quantitatively and temporally connecting the prevalence of a given microbe or virus to specific signs of infection have limited our understanding of the etiology of many wildlife diseases. Given these challenges, non-culture-based methods are increasingly used in research to characterize disease in novel environments or organisms. For example, white plague-like diseases of tropical corals are implicated in reef decline worldwide, although their etiological cause is generally unknown. Our lab works in collaboration with Drs. Marilyn Brandt and Tyler Smith’s labs at the University of the Virgin Islands to evaluate the cause and effect of this disease. Recently we found that white plague like diseases are associated with abnormally high temperatures, the passage of a hurricanes, and mass bleaching, and fragmentation of its coral community (Brandt et al. 2013 PLoS One). We also have used metagenomics and microscopy to determine that novel single stranded viruses are correlated with diseased animals (Soffer et al. 2013 ISME J).