Corals are an invaluable part of the marine ecosystem, fostering biodiversity and protecting coastlines. But they're also increasingly endangered. Pathogenic bacteria, along with pollution and harmful fishing practices, are one of the biggest threats to the world's coral populations today.
One of the solutions to the crisis may lie in human medicine. Prof. Eugene Rosenberg of Tel Aviv University's Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology, working in collaboration with Dr. Ilil Atad of his own laboratory and Prof. Yossi Loya of TAU's Department of Zoology, has developed a treatment for coral infected by Thalassomonas loyana, otherwise known as White Plague disease. This deadly bacterium infects 9 percent of Favia favus corals on the Eilat coral reef in the Red Sea and readily transmits the disease to nearby healthy corals.
Their treatment uses viruses that infect bacteria by injecting genetic material into the bacteria, a therapy originally developed to treat bacterial infections in humans. In this case, the researchers isolated a virus called BA3, one of a category of viruses known as phages. After laboratory experiments showed that BA3 had the ability to kill off White Plague disease, field experiments in the Gulf of Eilat demonstrated that the treatment stopped the progression of the disease in infected corals and prevented the spread of the disease to surrounding healthy corals as well.
These findings were presented at the American Society for Microbiology's general meeting in June.
From human to marine medicine
Treating bacterial infections in corals is no easy task. Because corals don't produce antibodies like humans, they can't be immunized. And pharmaceutical antibiotics are not a viable option because the treatment releases the drugs into the sea, harming the marine environment.
The researchers applied their treatment to two groups of diseased coral, each surrounded by a cir
|Contact: George Hunka|
American Friends of Tel Aviv University