Coral around the world is in decline, destroying the natural habitat of thousands of different species. But scientists might have revealed a dirty truth behind the problem: coral could have a bad case of herpes.
In fact, it's not just herpes. Coral seems to be harboring a bunch of viral diseases, that could be slowly wiping it out. In research published in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, a team of scientists point out that coral declines are reaching crisis proportions—and that previously ignored viral infections are likely behind it. Rebecca Vega-Thurber, one of the researchers, explains to PhysOrg:
"Coral abundance in the Caribbean Sea has gone down about 80 percent in the past 30-40 years, and about one-third of the corals around the world are threatened with extinction.
"We've identified 22 kinds of emerging disease that affect corals... we suspect viruses may play a role in this... and it's important to learn more about what is causing this problem. Corals are the building blocks of the tropical seas."
In fact, the researchers were shocked to find herpes viruses—similar but not identical to the ones found in humans—in coral. They've observed that when coral begins to suffer, which may be encouraged by these herpes viruses, it becomes pale and loses its protective algae coating. In turn, that makes it more susceptible to damage from pollution and human interaction, which causes it to die off completely.
So far, however, the scientists haven't established just how much of a problem herpes is for coral, let alone found a cure. But then, how do you stop something that reproduces asexually catching herpes, eh? [Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology via PhysOrg]
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