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June 9, 2014

Even healthy corals have viruses

Researchers say role of viruses could reveal more about reef decline

Corals are important ecosystem engineers, providing habitat and nutrient recycling to tropical reefs. However, coral species' richness and abundance are in decline worldwide, due in large part to the impacts from global industrialization and human population growth.

Coral disease is a major contributor to this decline of tropical reefs, and therefore, investigations into the causes of and remedies to these diseases are of critical importance.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), microbiologist Rebecca Vega-Thurber and her team at Oregon State University collect coral samples during diving expeditions and analyze the DNA in order to learn more about the role of viruses in the biology of coral.

Some viruses are present even in healthy coral, similar to the way chicken pox or herpes viruses are present in healthy humans. The team is also studying what is known as “white plague,” which can cause the destruction of large reefs very quickly.

The research in this episode was supported by NSF award #1242064, Effects of Viruses on Coral Fitness, under the Biological Oceanography program.

Miles O'Brien, Science Nation Correspondent
Ann Kellan, Science Nation Producer

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.