Scientific breakthrough against the Crown of Thorns

A photo from the Australian Institute of Marine Science shows the coral-eating starfish at the Great Barrier Reef. Australian researchers believe they have found a way to kill the destructive crown-of-thorns starfish that are decimating coral reefs across the Pacific and Indian oceans.Australian scientists have discovered a beef-like extract that may  help to defeat a destructive starfish which has been wiping out some of the  world’s most valuable coral reefs.

Two scientists in Queensland found that the protein mixture triggered an  acute allergic reaction and caused the crown-of-thorns starfish to break apart  and die within as little as 24 hours.

The Great Barrier Reef has lost half of its coral cover in the past 27 years  and the starfish have been blamed for more than 40 per cent of that loss. They  can damage up to 90 per cent of a reef’s coral. Recent outbreaks have been  reported in the Great Barrier Reef, as well as Guam, French Polynesia, Papua New  Guinea, and the central Indian Ocean.

A female starfish can release more than 50 million eggs a year, although the  survival rate is usually low.

Researchers at James Cook University in Queensland made the breakthrough  after examining a bacterium that occurs naturally in the starfish.

In what has been described as a “Eureka moment,” one of the scientists, Dr.  Jairo Rivera Posada, was conducting research on an island in the Barrier Reef  and wondered whether a substance being used to culture the bacterium could boost  it enough to damage the host.

He and his colleague, Prof. Morgan Pratchett, injected five starfish with the  solution — made from carbonates and proteins extracted from animal tissues — and  were “astonished” as the starfish began to fall apart.

“I was only hoping to impair their immune systems, so the fact that they died  so quickly was a great surprise,” Posada said.

The researchers found the solution caused the bacterium to bloom and attack  the starfish. Simultaneously, the starfish suffered an acute allergic reaction  to the unfamiliar animal proteins.

Posada said the next step would be to show the protein was safe for other  marine life.

However, it was unlikely to be ready to prevent the current outbreak.

“In the Philippines, they removed as many as 87,000 starfish from a single  beach. This gives you an idea of the numbers we have to deal with.”

Recorded Interview with Mark Eakin, head of NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch program, discusses how to save the world’s largest coral reef system.

© Copyright (c) The Daily Telegraph

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