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Worm brings death to coral

e bacterium was only present in the summer. "We had to find out what happened to it in the winter," Rosenberg explains.

To reveal its hideout, they added a fluorescent chemical tag to the water around the coral. This tag attaches specifically to the bacterium's DNA, and they were surprised to see where the fluorescence later showed up. "I thought we would find it in the water, or at least in the sediment," says Rosenberg. But the strongest glow came from the marine fireworm, Hermodice carunculata, they will report in an upcoming issue of Environmental Microbiology. The researchers believe the worm harbours the bacterium, and transmits it to the coral while feeding.

It is the first time a vector has been found for a coral disease. Rosenberg says his team is now developing a technology that could help prevent the disease's spread, although he wouldn't reveal details. He suspects much of the world's coral bleaching is caused by similar pathogens, and some of them may have different vectors. This year, he showed that another new bacterial species, Vibrio coralliilyticus, causes bleaching in a Red Sea reef coral. Pathogenic strains of Vibrio have also been isolated from reefs off the coasts of England and Brazil.

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a coral bleaching expert and director of the Centre for Marine Studies at the University of Queensland, thinks mass bleaching events move too quickly to be caused by an infectious disease. "But it is possible that this microbe naturally inhabits corals, a bit like Escherichia coli in the human gut, and temperature increases cause it to trigger bleaching," he says.


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Contact: Claire Bowles
claire.bowles@rbi.co.uk
44-207-331-2751
New Scientist
9-Apr-2003


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