Viruses linked to coral bleaching

I found this interesting: “If viruses are causing disease or bleaching of colonies, it’s also unknown whether this is happening now more than in the past.” Sort of like ocean acidification, they don’t have any long term data.

UPDATE: Commenter “Climate Weenie” says it best in comments to this story:

Remember ‘Global Warming is killing the frogs?’ – turned out to be fungus spread by biologists.
‘Global Warming is killing the bees!’ – parasites
‘Global Warming is killing the bats!’ – fungus
Now, ‘Global Warming is killing the coral!’ – virus.

From Oregon State University:

Unbleached and bleached coral.

Unbleached and bleached coral. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Viruses linked to algae that control coral health

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Scientists have discovered two viruses that appear to infect the single-celled microalgae that reside in corals and are important for coral growth and health, and they say the viruses could play a role in the serious decline of coral ecosystems around the world.

These viruses, including an RNA virus never before isolated from a coral, have been shown for the first time to clearly be associated with these microalgae called Symbiodinium. If it’s proven that they are infecting those algae and causing disease, it will be another step toward understanding the multiple threats that coral reefs are facing.

The research was published today in the ISME Journal, in work supported by the National Science Foundation.

“We’re way behind in our knowledge of how viral disease may affect coral health,” said Adrienne Correa, a researcher with the Department of Microbiology at Oregon State University. “If viral infection is causing some bleaching, it could be important in the death of corals and contribute to reef decline. This potential threat from viruses is just starting to be recognized.”

Corals co-exist with these algae in a symbiotic relationship, scientists say, in which the algae provide energy to the coral, and contribute to the construction of reefs. The coral in turn offers a place for the algae to live and provides nutrients for it.

Corals and viruses have evolved along with their resident algae for millions of years. They have persisted through previous climate oscillations, and the presence of viruses within corals or their algae doesn’t necessarily indicate they are affecting coral colony health. If viruses are causing disease or bleaching of colonies, it’s also unknown whether this is happening now more than in the past.

“Corals are known to face various environmental threats, such a warming temperatures, competition and pollution,” Correa said. “Some of the environmental changes of the past were likely more gradual and allowed the coral and its associates more time to adapt.

“The stresses challenging coral reefs now are more intense and frequent,” she said. “This may mean viruses cause more problems for corals and their algae now than they did historically.”

In continued research at OSU, scientists will inoculate Symbiodinium with the viruses and try to prove they are causing actual disease. If the viruses are killing the algae, scientists said, it could have significant implications for coral reef health and survival. There are almost two dozen known diseases that are affecting coral, and scientists still do not know the cause of most of them.

Coral abundance has declined about 80 percent in the Caribbean Sea in the past 30-40 years, and about one-third of all corals around the world are threatened with extinction.

###

Here’s the abstract:

Unique nucleocytoplasmic dsDNA and +ssRNA viruses are associated with the dinoflagellate endosymbionts of corals

Adrienne M S Correa, Rory M Welsh and Rebecca L Vega Thurber

Abstract

The residence of dinoflagellate algae (genus: Symbiodinium) within scleractinian corals is critical to the construction and persistence of tropical reefs. In recent decades, however, acute and chronic environmental stressors have frequently destabilized this symbiosis, ultimately leading to coral mortality and reef decline. Viral infection has been suggested as a trigger of coral–Symbiodinium dissociation; knowledge of the diversity and hosts of coral-associated viruses is critical to evaluating this hypothesis.

Here, we present the first genomic evidence of viruses associated with Symbiodinium, based on the presence of transcribed +ss (single-stranded) RNA and ds (double-stranded) DNA virus-like genes in complementary DNA viromes of the coral Montastraea cavernosa and expressed sequence tag (EST) libraries generated from Symbiodinium cultures. The M. cavernosa viromes contained divergent viral sequences similar to the major capsid protein of the dinoflagellate-infecting +ssRNA Heterocapsa circularisquama virus, suggesting a highly novel dinornavirus could infect Symbiodinium.

Further, similarities to dsDNA viruses dominated (~69%) eukaryotic viral similarities in the M. cavernosa viromes. Transcripts highly similar to eukaryotic algae-infecting phycodnaviruses were identified in the viromes, and homologs to these sequences were found in two independently generated Symbiodinium EST libraries. Phylogenetic reconstructions substantiate that these transcripts are undescribed and distinct members of the nucleocytoplasmic large DNA virus (NCLDVs) group.

Based on a preponderance of evidence, we infer that the novel NCLDVs and RNA virus described here are associated with the algal endosymbionts of corals. If such viruses disrupt Symbiodinium, they are likely to impact the flexibility and/or stability of coral–algal symbioses, and thus long-term reef health and resilience.

http://www.nature.com/ismej/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/ismej201275a.html

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35 thoughts on “Viruses linked to coral bleaching

  1. “Coral abundance has declined about 80 percent in the Caribbean Sea in the past 30-40 years, and about one-third of all corals around the world are threatened with extinction.”
    ####

    These people never give up.

  2. “multiple threats that coral reefs are facing”

    There are no ‘threats’ there are only other parts of nature that alter the requirements for survival on an ongoing basis. Adapt or die out.

    The personification of nature is an intellectual defect.

    In this case it is being said that these very, very, very small creatures (the viruses) are ‘threatening’ the other very, very small creatures (the coral). I am sure that any harm done by one to the other involves no malice and is not intended to scare the other in to doing something that it would otherwise not do (a threat).

    In science, in school, children are taught that science asks the question ‘Why?’, ‘why’ or course implies conscious intent or design. I feel that we would all be better off if the children were told science asks the question ‘How?’, it would make the children better scientists.

    In nature there is no why, there is only is, and how is is, is the question.

  3. The increase in shipping over the last century provides a vector for transmission of viruses. The widespread distribution of invasive macroscopic species recently certainly is the model for further research with corals.

  4. No, no that can’t be correct … wait, then it must be climate disruption causing the virus proliferation, yes, fixed it !
    /sarc

  5. Huh.

    Remember ‘Global Warming is killing the frogs?’ – turned out to be fungus spread by biologists.
    ‘Global Warming is killing the bees!’ – parasites
    ‘Global Warming is killing the bats!’ – fungus
    Now, ‘Global Warming is killing the coral!’ – virus.

  6. Why this new viral threat, you ask? I predict the answer will be related to global warmingclimate changedisruption.

  7. If you don’t (can’t or won’t) correctly identify a problem, you can’t fix it. I’m not a psychologist, and have no supporting data, but years of unscientific observation have lead me to believe that people who lack this ability generally tend to lean liberal / socialist.

  8. Sometimes it’s the cold that kills them!

    First Florida Cold-water Bleaching Event in 30 Years:
    “During the first two weeks of January 2010, water temperatures in some parts of the Keys dropped into the upper 40s and lower 50s, which is about
    20 degrees Fahrenheit lower than the typical temperatures of the upper 60s and lower 70s. The lethal lower limit for corals is 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

    According to reef biologists, the influx of cold water from Florida and Biscayne bays appears to be responsible for the coral deaths in nearshore waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary”

    http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/weeklynews/mar10/cwcoral.html

  9. BTW, sunscreen also causes coral bleaching, by activating viruses that kill the algae.

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/01/080129-sunscreen-coral.html

    “The sunscreen that you dutifully slather on before a swim on the beach may be protecting your body—but a new study finds that the chemicals are also killing coral reefs worldwide.

    Four commonly found sunscreen ingredients can awaken dormant viruses in the symbiotic algae called zooxanthellae that live inside reef-building coral species

    The chemicals cause the viruses to replicate until their algae hosts explode, spilling viruses into the surrounding seawater, where they can infect neighboring coral communities.”

    http://scubadiverlife.com/2011/06/09/is-your-sunscreen-killing-corals/

  10. Declines in the Caribbean corals have previously been correlated to dust levels from Africa, but (to my memory) no clear reason why the increased dust levels caused the declines. In the same way, incidence of asthma and other breathing ailments for humans in the region have also been linked to this dust.

    One noteable type of coral affected in the Florida Keys is the Staghorn coral, which has suffered significantly. Except for a few colonies, this type of coral has been nearly wiped out, however, there have been successful efforts to transplant from these remaining colonies. It would be interesting to see if something like this viral threat is a cause, and if these remaining colonies have resistance.

    Gerry

  11. Before anyone jumps the gun, the abstract says that viral infection is inferred from the presence of “viral-like” RNA and DNA. Without reading the article, I don’t know how many bases were isolated. Collecting enough to make one viral protein would convince me of their claim. But finding a few hundred bases that genbank says is most similar to a virus sequence is more likely dumb luck. Show me an infectious virion, then I’ll be convincex.

  12. Given what the frog issue turned out to be, It wouldn’t supprise me if they discovered that the researchers are the primary vector for spreading the coral virus.

  13. “Sort of like ocean acidification”,
    We really should stop using these terms Anthony the dictionary says that acidification is “the process of becoming acid or being converted into an acid”, whereas the Oceans may be becoming slightly less alkaline which is a different thing entirely. It might seem like splitting hairs but it just plays into the teams way of using language that suits them.

  14. Symbiodinium include dino-flaggelate algae which corals host. Some coral types must pick up their Symbiodium all by themselves, while other coral types will give some of their endo-symbiont directly to their coral progeny. Coral have pattern recognition receptors (PRR) as their immunological screening mechanism & the lectin glycans on the surface of acceptable Symbiodinium have to be the right molecular pattern.
    The virus is not being taken directly into some coral as they passively float by each other – it can sneak in past the coral’s immune system PRR if a Symbiodinium carries it in. For that matter the corals gifting their progeny an endo-symbiont may also be passing with it viral forms that the Symbiodinium itself somehow uses.
    I assume the researched coral crisis has a lot to do with certain viral horizontal gene transfers (HGT) to some Symbiodinium. HGT conferred on those Symbiodium better survival benefits in the water during the time that Symbiodinium is living outside of a coral; once inside the coral those studied viruses apparently take their turn at replication. Run off pharmaceutical cocktail dissolved in the ocean somewhere seems a better candidate for having initially set up certain algae for viral gene transfer than does blaming pH or temperature.

  15. @Gary

    The increase in shipping over the last century provides a vector for transmission of viruses. The widespread distribution of invasive macroscopic species recently certainly is the model for further research with corals.
    +++++++

    As with the case of of the frogs ‘dying out because of climate change that was making them run uphill faster than their little legs could carry them’ (the Golden frog story in Puerto Rico being a typical example) perhaps it is the coral biologists who are carrying the virus(es) from reef to reef. Their equipment is not sterilised each time is it? Same with the frogs who were infected each time someone came to count and ‘save them’.

    No contrition from the frog masters, eh? No screaming headlines about ‘mankind wiping out the frogs’ caused directly by them traipsing through the swamps with bio-hazard muddy boots on. The silence is sickening. Makes me feel kinda green…

  16. Gary says:
    July 12, 2012 at 9:54 am

    The increase in shipping over the last century provides a vector for transmission of viruses. The widespread distribution of invasive macroscopic species recently certainly is the model for further research with corals.

    AND
    Anthony Scalzi says:
    July 12, 2012 at 10:34 am

    BTW, sunscreen also causes coral bleaching, by activating viruses that kill the algae.

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/01/080129-sunscreen-coral.html

    “The sunscreen that you dutifully slather on before a swim on the beach may be protecting your body—but a new study finds that the chemicals are also killing coral reefs worldwide.

    Four commonly found sunscreen ingredients can awaken dormant viruses in the symbiotic algae called zooxanthellae that live inside reef-building coral species

    The chemicals cause the viruses to replicate until their algae hosts explode, spilling viruses into the surrounding seawater, where they can infect neighboring coral communities.”

    http://scubadiverlife.com/2011/06/09/is-your-sunscreen-killing-corals/

    And of course the researchers from OSU will have gone from reef to reef with the same equipment spreading the virus AND slathering on Sun Protection Factor 100 every hour or so thus ensuring the infection spreads.

    Just like the amphibian extinction, coral bleaching courtesy of ‘green’ researchers spreading disease.

  17. Gerry Parker:

    Yes, I saw the same study, and if memory serves, the dust was bringing both exotic pathogens, and increasing the turbidity of the water (but only slightly; there had to be additional factors from this side of the pond).

    The increase in African dust was (of course) linked to the drought in the Sahel, which is (of course) linked to global warming … … …, er, … …, aah, I mean CLIMATE CHANGE … … … , eerrrr, … …. ummmm, … … I mean, climate DISRUPTION … …. ……… ………… aaahhhh, …. no, … …. , it’s … ….. ………. ……………. (oh, what the hell is it!?!?! What is it, this week?!?!?!?!?!?!) … …. it’s, ….. ….. ….. it’s ….. ….. …. … it’s that AlGore – y thing-y that’s being caused by … … … … us humans.

    Hope that clears (?) it up.

    Mark H.

  18. I anticipate on an IPCB coming to the rescue very soon,
    under the inspiring leadership of a former 419-scammer.

  19. Expect a paper out soon showing HOW the virus spreads. I would not be surprised if it’s by concerned coral bleaching scientists.

  20. I remember seeing a paleoclimate study a few years ago that used coral growth in the Caribbean as a proxy for ocean temperature. The interesting thing was that they associated increased growth with higher temperatures!

    I can’t find that study now. Does anyone else have the source for it?

  21. It doesn’t matter how the virus came about. It’s existence will be blamed on AGW because we are evil parasites who are killing the planet.

  22. Climate Weenie says:
    July 12, 2012 at 10:01 am

    Yeah but it is AGW that is making virus and fungus thrive.

    /sarc

  23. Suppose it turns out that warming kills coral bleaching viruses. Would Warmists consider that a good thing? Somehow I don’t think so. Warming can only do bad things. So if warming causes a decline in coral, it’s a bad thing. And if warming causes a decline in viruses that harm corals, that’s a bad thing too. They will never admit any good coming from warming. That would be blasphemy.

  24. Climate Weenie says:
    July 12, 2012 at 10:01 am
    Huh.

    Remember ‘Global Warming is killing the frogs?’ – turned out to be fungus spread by biologists.
    ‘Global Warming is killing the bees!’ – parasites
    ‘Global Warming is killing the bats!’ – fungus
    Now, ‘Global Warming is killing the coral!’ – virus.
    =============================================================
    They are looking for a cause, any cause, that justifies what they’ve wanted to do all along.

  25. Sir Karl Popper formulated the modern Scientific Method. He noted that confirmation bias is an ever present danger:

    It is easy to obtain confirmations, or verifications, for nearly every theory — if we look for confirmations.

    1. Confirmations should count only if they are the result of risky predictions; that is to say, if, unenlightened by the theory in question, we should have expected an event which was incompatible with the theory — an event which would have refuted the theory.

    2. Every “good” scientific theory is a prohibition: it forbids certain things to happen. The more a theory forbids, the better it is.

    3. A theory which is not refutable by any conceivable event is non-scientific. Irrefutability is not a virtue of a theory (as people often think) but a vice.

    4. Every genuine test of a theory is an attempt to falsify it, or to refute it. Testability is falsifiability; but there are degrees of testability: some theories are more testable, more exposed to refutation, than others; they take, as it were, greater risks.

    5. Confirming evidence should not count except when it is the result of a genuine test of the theory; and this means that it can be presented as a serious but unsuccessful attempt to falsify the theory.

    6. Some genuinely testable theories, when found to be false, are still upheld by their admirers — for example by introducing ad hoc some auxiliary assumption, or by reinterpreting the theory ad hoc in such a way that it escapes refutation. Such a procedure is always possible, but it rescues the theory from refutation only at the price of destroying, or at least lowering, its scientific status.

    One can sum up all this by saying that the criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability.

    Based on Popper’s requirements, human-emitted CO2 as the cause of coral bleaching is not even science. It is rank speculation that inevitably blames CO2, because that is always the narrative that supports the CAGW agenda.

    AGW=coral bleaching is an untestable conjecture. It is an opinion that lacks evidence; climate alarmism by media headline. Honest scientists should demand evidence, and claims like this should require complete transparency of all data and methods. If that happened, the coral bleaching scare would disappear overnight.

  26. Yeah, but the parasites, fungi, and virus are caused by global warming don’t ya know! sarc/ Seriously, thats what the warmists are now saying.

  27. Viruses that kill the hosts are themselves doomed. We have a fox and rabbit game here and my bet is we don’t recognize what the balance point of this one looks like. Bark beetles and conifer forests are another. Both have been around forever.

  28. Anthony: could you please add to Climate Weenie’s list
    “Climate Change is Killing the Penguins” – flipper bands; attached by biologists

    REPLY: It’s his list, he’ll have to say OK – Anthony

  29. ”Andrew30 says:
    July 12, 2012 at 9:45 am
    “multiple threats that coral reefs are facing”

    There are no ‘threats’ there are only other parts of nature that alter the requirements for survival on an ongoing basis. Adapt or die out.

    The personification of nature is an intellectual defect.

    In this case it is being said that these very, very, very small creatures (the viruses) are ‘threatening’ the other very, very small creatures (the coral). I am sure that any harm done by one to the other involves no malice and is not intended to scare the other in to doing something that it would otherwise not do (a threat).

    In science, in school, children are taught that science asks the question ‘Why?’, ‘why’ or course implies conscious intent or design. I feel that we would all be better off if the children were told science asks the question ‘How?’, it would make the children better scientists.

    In nature there is no why, there is only is, and how is is, is the question.”

    Andrew30 … that is a direct hit. Well done.

    Thank you

  30. Louis, I agree based on additional observations. Further, my observations show that this group is least likely to be inclined toward details of any kind and are more likely to cite group think or outliers if they get past the threats and demonizing tactics. We need some new fangled psych tests. They would be fascinating to see. Oh that involves data and details again. My bad

  31. This comment in the press release caught my attention:

    Some of the environmental changes of the past were likely more gradual and allowed the coral and its associates more time to adapt.

    Well, from this study:

    http://noc.ac.uk/news/global-sea-level-rise-end-last-ice-age

    sea level rose at 2.5 metres per century – i.e. 2.5 cm per year – during some phases at the end of the last ice age, which sounds like a pretty rapid change for corals to deal with – and yet they are all here today…

  32. Coral colours are not due to the coral, because that is made of calcium carbonate which is white, but by the algal growths use by the coral polyps in symbiotic relationship to feed. Sometimes these algal growths need changing and it is then that the whitening occurs. After the algal regrowth the corals get their colour back. Why this happens is open to debate but my guess is that the symbiotic algae have a short life compared to that of the polyps. I do not think that water temperature has anything to do with it because the same species of coral live on the GBR as on reefs round Borneo and there is a large temperature difference between the two areas.
    Whitening has been reported in areas of the GBR but a return has shown total recolouring and a thriving reef. The only natural event to kill a reef would be a sea level lowering. Sea level rise just gives the reef corals more volume to expand into.

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