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Mysterious snake disease decoded

t the time an HHMI investigator and professor of microbiology and medicine at UCSF, in 2008.

Could DeRisi help save Larry the snake as well? Sanders suggested to Hook she had nothing to lose by asking.

DeRisi was in his office one morning in early 2009 when he spied a hand-written letter in his stack of daily mail. Inside was a plea from Hook describing Larry's illness. She had heard he had found the cause of a mysterious parrot disease. Would he do for snakes what he did for parrots? She enclosed a picture of herself with Larry.

Having never heard of the disease, DeRisi set the letter aside and it was lost under a pile of paper. Only months later, while cleaning his office, did he stumbled across it again. He was about to toss it away, but in scanning the letter again he noticed Hook mentioned the local exotic pet veterinarian Sanders. So he called, they spoke, and DeRisi decided to take on the project.

"It satisfied all the criteria as an interesting disease," DeRisi said. But first he had to find samples to test from infected snakes.

Around the same time, inclusion body disease was diagnosed in a snake at the Steinhart Aquarium in the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Also discovered were snake mites, which are believed to be a possible vector for passing the disease from snake to snake.

Academy veterinarian Freeland Dunker decided to test all of the boas exposed to the infected snake for the diseasea complicated procedure requiring a surgical biopsy of the liver. He discovered a few more were infected, and all of them had to be euthanized to prevent any spread of the disease. Dunker asked his pathologist, Drury Reavill DVM if she knew of any current research being done on inclusion body disease for which tissues from the euthanized snakes could be used. As it turned out, Reavill had already been in touch with DeRisi's group and knew they were looking for samples.

The effort to find

Contact: Jennifer O'Brien
University of California - San Francisco

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