Sea stars (once known as starfish) have been dying up and down the West Coast of the United States for several years from a wasting disease and scientists are just learning how they are responding to the disease.
Sea Star Information
University of Texas at Arlington graduate student Lauren Fuess, a Ph.D. candidate in quantitative biology, led a study to find out how the immune systems of sea stars have responded to a wasting disease that has decimated 20 different sea star species.
University of Texas at Arlington graduate student Lauren Fuess, a Ph.D. candidate in quantitative biology is studying sea star wasting disease.
The researchers found that the immune systems of sea stars have developed several types of immunities that may ward off disease and have several toll-signaling pathway avenues to fight disease.
“It’s how a cell recognizes a pathogen and then elicits a change in its genes so that the sea star can start defending itself against the pathogen,” Fuess said. “We found a lot of interesting genes – including the first melanin gene ever recorded in a sea star. Invertebrates can use melanin to wall off pathogens or any bacteria-like viruses that are attacking them.”
Fuess and her colleagues also found changes to the cellular makeup of the collagen gene that is a component of the sea star’s structure, which may soften a sea star’s structure, as well as changes to nervous genes that may be the cause of the contorted arms.
The nasty disease causes the arms of sea stars to contort and develop white lesions. The disease then causes the sea stars to literally melt during the final stages, killing the sea stars. Scientists believe that the disease is a virus that is related to rabies.
Th new study is called “Up in Arms: Immune and Nervous System Response to Sea Star Wasting Disease.” and can be accessed on the PLOS ONE journal.