Scientists solved the mystery of a disease that’s been killing millions of sea stars along the Pacific shores of North America. The pathogen responsible for the wide-spread sea star deaths is a virus called the “sea-star associated densovirus.”
To identify the source of the disease, scientists conducted DNA sequencing of viruses in tissue samples of sick and healthy sea stars. Then they tested the suspected viral culprit by injecting it into healthy sea stars in an aquarium. The injected sea stars died within 14 days. The densovirus does not cause the death, but weakens a sea star’s immune system. Susceptible to bacterial infections, a sea star can develop lesions, lose arms, and melt into gelatinous masses.
LiMPETS students, who monitor areas affected by sea star wasting disease, helped inform scientists at UC Santa Cruz to track the extent of the disease in California. The LiMPETS program will now, hopefully, begin to document the recovery of the California sea star population.