Research to commence on how viruses affect shellfish dermo disease


U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King announced the National Science Foundation's $298,674 award to Bigelow Laboratory to study interactions between viruses and parasites that cause Dermo disease in oysters, clams, and other bivalves. Joaqu�n Mart�nez Mart�nez and José Antonio Fern�ndez Robledo will conduct the research.

"Understanding the function and balance of Maine's ecosystem can help preserve our state's diverse habitats and shellfish fisheries," Senators Collins and King said in a joint statement. "The innovative study of viruses and parasites at Bigelow Lab is significant in advancing our knowledge of Maine's marine ecology, and this funding will support the lab's dedicated and comprehensive research."

Dermo disease has been present in the southeastern United States and the Gulf of Mexico for decades, and more recently has extended its reach to Maine as a result of climate change. It slows growth in infected bivalves and increases the likelihood of mortality. While most studies of the disease focus on the interaction between the Perkinsus parasite and the host bivalve, the Bigelow Laboratory scientists will study the relationship between viruses and parasites as an innovative strategy to better understand and manage the disease.

The research will consist of controlled laboratory experiments to isolate and investigate viruses that infect Perkinsus. Work will focus on three Perkinsus species (P. marinus, P. chesapeaki, and P. olseni) that are available in laboratory cultures and for which there is previous microscopy evidence of viral infection. Both molecular and microbiological analyses will be used to evaluate the ubiquity of viruses that infect Perkinsus and to gain knowledge on how Perkinsus cells respond to viral infection. The results of this research have the potential to ameliorate the ecological and economic impact of Dermo disease by enhancing therapies and contributing to responsible management strategies, while benefiting the production of oyster spat by hatcheries for commercial and restoration efforts.

The grant funding was awarded through the National Science Foundation's Division of Integrative Organismal Systems.


Electron micrographs of in vitro-cultured P. marinus TXsc trophozoites (A) Assembled VLPs in P. marinusnucleus. (B) VLPs are concentrated inside the nuclear membrane. Some VLPs are dispersed within the nucleus (black and white arrowhead) or released into the cytoplasm (blue arrowhead). Black arrowheads indicate the nuclear membrane . Images by Fern�ndez Robledo (Co-PI) and GR Vasta, unpublished.