Coral-killing army recruits human bugs

From Boston, at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America.

Coral reefs around the globe are plagued by black-band disease. The telltale black or red mat of bacteria that infects and kills corals is the work of a multitude of pathogens (SN: 4/11/98, p. 229: Now, research on reefs off the Caribbean island of Curaao shows that the lethal legions enlist some bacteria that come from people.

On Curaao’s southern coast, industrial runoff and urban sewage from the seaport of St. Annabaai empty into a steady offshore current. Bruce W. Fouke and his colleagues at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign sampled two tracts of reef near St. Annabaai. One is clear of the stream of effluent; the other is directly in its path. The researchers documented higher rates of black-band disease along the second reef.

Fouke’s team then used genetic analyses to identify the bacteria living in and around the corals. They found about 50 species associated with black-band disease, including several previously known only in people. How the people-infecting bacteria promote coral disease remains unclear, says Fouke.

More Stories from Science News on Earth