Thursday, October 11, 2012

Human Pathogen Causing Disease in Coral

A recent study has proven that white pox disease of Caribbean elkhorn coral is caused by a human pathogen present in the wastewater.  What does this tell us about our sewage systems and their effect on the environment?  We need a better filtration system, and need to create a better way to get rid of our “waste.” 

Research was done in Key West, Florida on the strains of pathogens present in the coral, humans, and other animals, such as Key deer and seagulls.  The human strain of the pathogen (found in human sewage) directly matched the strain found in white pox coral.  This is a disturbing fact, considering the cause of this pathogen has had serious detrimental effects on the state of coral off the coast of Florida. 

Once the strain was matched, experiments were conducted in closed seawater tanks to test the spread of the human pathogen to the coral, and within five days, the elkhorn coral was infected.  And this was just in a closed, experimental environment.  Imagine the effects that a much larger amount of waste have had on a much broader area of coral reefs.  The experiments were specifically done in closed environments as not to harm the remaining uninfected coral.

Serratia marcescens is the pathogen found in humans, commonly causing infections in newborn children and immune-compromised adults.  This situation is a primary example of what we typically see the opposite of in nature - a human to wildlife spread of disease.   Examples of wildlife to human spread  of disease are those such as HIV and birdflu. In fact, based on their findings and ecological history, this is the first time that human disease has caused a population decline of marine invertebrates. 

Luckily, this pathogen spread can be controlled and we have the means to stop it.   Water treatment plans will help to eliminate the spread of the bacterium, and have been set up across the entire Florida Keys. Do you think these treatment plans will work? And are we already too late?  If we have the means to more efficiently “clean” are waste, should we be utilizing different methods and possibly think of other ways to dispose of it?

The full article can be found here:

-Kirby Welsh


Megan Lim said...

What do you think the possible mechanism of attack is? To me it is mind boggling that the pathogen is able to attack two very different hosts: a terrestrial mammal and a calcium carbonate cnidarian. I wonder how many different types of host it could attack.

John Latto said...

Eukaryotes - they're all pretty much the same... (seriously)

Apparently it's also the organism that cause an unpleasant pink slime/growth in your shower by growing on soap residue