Coral infected with aspergillus

Coral reefs are declining worldwide. Even very old coral colonies in remote locations are dying—victims of disease and of interactions between pathogens and climate change 

Sick Corals: Undersea Doctors to the Rescue

July 26, 2013

Coral infected with aspergillus

Coral reefs are declining worldwide. Even very old coral colonies in remote locations are dying—victims of disease and of interactions between pathogens and climate change.

Drew Harvell (EEB), former ACSF associate director of environment, is working with colleagues at Cornell and in Puerto Rico to uncover the causes of coral diseases and the immune factors that help corals resist pathogens. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), her team has developed a catalog of genes that reveals new information about the immune systems of corals called sea fans.

The NSF website profiled the team’s work on purple sea fans as a promising model for studying ocean diseases. Harvell explained the connection between corals and the health of all living things in a changing climate:

We’re looking at microbial infection, pathways of defense and the health of this sea fan in the face of warming waters and climate change. All animals on Earth—from humans to fish to corals—are susceptible to infection by pathogens that cause illness. What we hope to answer is: How widespread are these infections? Why do they happen? And, what can we do about them?

Harvell and coauthors will release a paper in Science on Friday, August 2. See this blog entry for more details and a link to “Climate Change and Infectious Diseases: From Evidence to a Predictive Framework.”

Read more about Drew Harvell’s NSF-funded research.