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Virus Named Top Suspect in Mysterious Deaths of Millions of Starfish

Scientists may have fingered the culprit believed responsible for millions of sea stars deaths from Baja California to Alaska.

Scientists may have fingered the culprit responsible for a mysterious epidemic that has killed millions of starfish from Baja California to Alaska. The disease began hitting starfish populations in 2013, causing some to form lesions, lose their limbs and even exude their internal organs from their skin. "Their disappearance is an experiment in ecological upheaval the likes of which we’ve never seen," Ian Hewson, a professor of microbiology at Cornell University, said in a statement. He and his team believe they have found the virus responsible: Sea Star Associated Densovirus (SSaDV). “There are 10 million viruses in a drop of seawater, so discovering the virus associated with a marine disease can be like looking for a needle in a haystack," he said. In the study, published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Hewson and his colleagues noted that the disease was a relatively common parvovirus found in invertebrates that rose to epidemic levels due to overpopulation, a genetic mutation or other unknown environmental factors.



— Keith Wagstaff