Quirks & Quarks

Sea Star Virus Identified

A mystery ailment that has been killing Pacific coast sea stars turns out to be a virus, but why it is so lethal is still mysterious.
Dissolving sea star (lizabeth Cherny-Chipman/Oregon State University/Associated Press)
 In 2013, divers and biologists on the Pacific Northwest began to notice something was happening to sea stars. also known as starfish. They were wasting away, losing limbs, and just dissolving into the ocean, in massive numbers. It was a catastrophe for the population that affected nearly two dozen species. Now, a group including Dr. Martin Haulena, the Head Veterinarian at the Vancouver Aquarium, has identified a virus that seems to have caused the outbreak, but that discovery has only deepened the mystery. The virus apparently has been present in the environment for at least seventy years, and so understanding what has changed to transform it into a devastating killer will be the next great challenge for researchers. 

Related Links

Paper in PNAS
- Science News article 
Smithsonian magazine article
- CBC/AP story