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Human pathogen killing corals in the Florida Keys
Date:8/18/2011

risk of infection to wild populations of corals.

"The strain caused disease in elkhorn coral in five days, so we now have definitive evidence that humans are a source of the pathogen that causes this devastating disease of corals," Sutherland said.

"These bacteria do not come from the ocean, they come from us," said Porter. Water-related activities in the Florida Keys generate more than $3 billion a year for Florida and the local economy. "We are killing the goose that lays the golden egg, and we've got the smoking gun to prove it," Porter said.

Serratia marcescens is also a pathogen of humans, causing respiratory, wound and urinary tract infections, meningitis, and pneumonia. Human diseases caused by this bacterium are most often associated with hospital-acquired infections of newborn infants and immune-compromised adults. This research reveals a new disease pathway, from humans to wildlife, which is the opposite of the traditional wildlife-to-human disease transmission model. The movement of pathogens from wildlife to humans is well documentedfor example, bird flu or HIVbut the movement of disease-causing microbes from humans to marine invertebrates has never been shown before. This is the first time that a human disease has been shown to cause population declines of a marine invertebrate.

"Bacteria from humans kill coralsthat's the bad news," said Porter. "But the good news is that we can solve this problem with advanced wastewater treatment facilities," like one recently completed in Key West. "This problem is not like hurricanes, which we can't control. We can do something about this one," he said. The entire Florida Keys is in the process of upgrading local wastewater treatment plants, and these measures will eliminate this source of the bacterium.

The Rollins College and University of Georgia collaborative research group is currently funded by a $2.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to i
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Contact: Beth Gavrilles
bethgav@uga.edu
706-542-7247
University of Georgia
Source:Eurekalert  

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