Worldwide transfer of microorganism facilitated by ballast water

Microbial organisms are major constituents of shipboard ballast water
Researchers find large volumes of bacteria and viruses discharged into ports worldwide

Washington, DC. Researchers at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC), the Center of Marine Biotechnology (COMB) of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute and Old Dominion University are reporting in todays issue (November 2, 2000) of the British journal, Nature, that ballast water discharges by the worlds ocean-going ships "create a long-distance dispersal mechanism for human pathogens, and may be important in the worldwide distribution of microorganisms as well as the epidemiology of waterborne diseases affecting plants and animals." It has long been known that such discharges have unintentionally spread plankton, shellfish and fish from one body of water to another, sometimes with major impacts to the receiving ecosystem.

Lead researcher Gregory Ruiz, from SERC, reports in Nature that he and his colleagues have found high concentrations of discharged microbes in the ballast water of ships arriving in Chesapeake Bay from foreign ports. Until these studies by Greg Ruiz and his colleagues, Tonya Rawlings, Fred Dobbs, Lisa Drake, Timothy Mullady, Anwarul Huq and Rita Colwell, the global movement of microorganisms via ballast water discharges was virtually ignored. The research was funded largely by the Maryland Sea Grant and the National Sea Grant College programs.

Ruiz says, that though there is no reported evidence of outbreaks of human diseases from non-indigenous microbes in ballast water, the findings indicate the need for much greater concern than has heretofore been shown.

"Despite growing concern about biological invasions and emergent diseases, the extent and effects of the transfer of microorganisms in ballast water are virtually unexplored," writes Ruiz and his colleagues. "We know of no published estimates of microbial genetic dive

Contact: Gregory M. Ruiz
National Sea Grant College Program

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