January 20, 2009

Another danger for coral health ID’d

U.S. scientists say they've identified the bacteria responsible for yellow band disease -- an infection that affects the world's coral reefs.

Researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and colleagues said YBD sickens coral colonies and is apparently a threat that's becoming worse with global warming.

Just as a doctor can diagnose a child with chicken pox by the small, round bumps on her skin, you can tell a coral with yellow band disease by its own characteristic markings, the scientists said. This affliction etches a swath of pale-yellow or white lesions along the surface of an infected coral colony. The discolored band is a mark of death, indicating where the bacterial infection has killed the coral's photosynthetic symbionts, called zooxanthellae. The coral host suffers from cellular damage and starves without its major energy source, and usually does not recover.

The research appeared in the November issue of the Journal of Applied Microbiology.