Elkhorn coral infected with white pox.
What’s the News: Over the past decade, diseases, pollution, and warming waters have put coral populations across the globe in a dramatic decline. In an extreme case, the population of elkhorn coral, considered one of the most important reef-building corals in the Caribbean, has decreased by 90–95 percent since 1980, partly due to a disease called white pox.
Now, scientists have traced this lethal disease back to humans. Human feces, which seep into the Florida Keys and the Caribbean from leaky septic tanks, transmit a white pox-causing bacterium to elkhorn coral, researchers report in the journal PLoS ONE. “It is the first time ever that a human disease has been shown to kill an invertebrate,” ecologist James Porter told Livescience. “This is unusual because we humans usually get disease from wildlife, and this is the other way around.”
What’s the News: Biochemists at the University of Arizona have found a promising new way to fight disease-carrying mosquitoes. In their research project, published in the journal PNAS, the scientists blocked mosquitoes’ ability to digest blood, making blood-sucking deadly to the winged pests. This technique could someday be used alongside other strategies to battle mosquitoes, like repellents and traps.
What’s the News: Due to a vicious disease, the population of the endangered Tasmanian devil has decreased by at least 70 percent since 1996. The cancer, devil facial tumor disease, spreads when an infected devil bites another, typically during feeding or mating. Because Tasmanian devils are so genetically similar, their bodies don’t recognize the intruding cancer cells as foreign.
But now, researchers have sequenced the genome of two devils and created a genetic test that could help breeders select genetically diverse mates. The test will help conservationists breed future generations of Tasmanian devils that are prepared for the cancer, as well as other types of diseases.