Virus implicated in sea star die-off

Ochre sea star

Ochre sea stars (Pisaster ochraceus) are one of at least 20 starfish species suffering from a devastating disease that transforms the marine creatures into puddles of slime. 

D. Gordon E. Robertson/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

A virus may be to blame for the mysterious mass die-off of sea stars living near the U.S. West Coast. Since June 2013, scientists have watched the dazzling marine creatures melt in puddles of slime. Now, a team has linked the sea stars’ plight to a virus in the Parvoviridae family.

When transmitted to healthy sea stars, the virus can make the starfish sick, and the infectious agent is also more abundant in sick sea stars than in healthy ones, the researchers report in the November 17 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The virus has been present in sea star populations since 1942, so it is not yet clear what is driving the latest outbreak of disease among the sea star populations, the team writes.

photo of Ashley Yeager

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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