Students Generate Useful Information on Immune System & Nervous System Responses of Sea Star to Devastating Wasting Disease Caused by Densovirus; Analyze Expression of 30,000 Genes in Sick and Healthy Sea Stars

Though millions of sea stars along the West Coast have perished in the past several years from an apparent wasting disease, scientists still don't know why. The iconic marine creature develops white lesions on its limbs and within days can dissolve or "melt" into a gooey mass. Last year, researchers identified a type of pathogen known as a densovirus as the likely cause, but they still can't explain the mass die-off three years ago or why a common ocean virus can wreak havoc on so many starfish species from Alaska to Southern California. Now, a group of young marine-disease researchers from around the country has contributed key information about the sea stars' immune response when infected with this virus. The students, while taking a summer class at the University of Washington's (UW’s) Friday Harbor Laboratories, looked specifically at how genes expressed themselves in both healthy and sick sea stars. It's the first time researchers have tracked how the genes behave when encountering this naturally occurring pathogen (densovirus), which could help explain how sea stars attempt to fight the virus and why they develop lesions and appear to melt. The researchers published their findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE in July 15, 2015. The article is titled “Up in Arms: Immune and Nervous System Response to Sea Star Wasting Disease.” "Doing this study isn't going to save the sea stars, but, from an ecological perspective, it provides new information," said Steven Roberts, Ph.D., a UW associate professor of aquatic and fishery sciences. "This could be a building block for future studies on the evolution of immune repertoires." Dr.
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