Coral herpes study re-writes viral story

The potential for a herpes-like viral outbreak in corals may just be a bug in the system, a Queensland scientist has found.

Dr Elisha Wood-Charlson, of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, revealed that previous reports of herpes-like viruses infecting coral were incorrect, with viruses more likely to infect the microbes living on the coral’s surface.

“A close re-analysis of published data using newly developed tools suggests that herpes-like viruses are actually not that common in corals. Corals, just like the human gut, contain a complex mixture of microbes, and most viruses we found likely infect those microbes,” says Elisha.

“When corals are stressed, they can get sick just like us. Coral disease cases are increasing around the world, but for most diseases we don’t know the cause,” she says.

A few years ago, a new potential threat arose when reports appeared of herpes-like viruses in high numbers in corals. Scientists were concerned as coral herpes stories went “viral” in the media.

Humans are thought to be responsible for most of the stress placed on corals, ranging from increasing ocean temperatures to pollution from coastal runoff.  But Elisha says the transmission of human disease-causing viruses has not been shown to be one of them.

“If you have a cold sore, and get in the water on your next coral reef trip, our research suggests that you won’t be leaving the corals with a permanent reminder of your visit,” she sElisha picays.

Queensland State Finalist: Elisha Wood-Charlson, Australian Institute of Marine Science

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