New Disease Caused By Fungus Is Affecting Sea Turtles

Sea turtles have been swimming in the oceans for more than a hundred million years, but of the seven species that exist, six are threatened and three of them critically. One of the causes is emerging diseases, the effect of which is increased by globalization, the dispersion of invasive pathogen-bearing species, and by climate change. An international study led by researchers from the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) has described a new emerging disease caused by a fungus that affects sea turtle embryos.

“The description of this emerging disease in sea turtles (STEF, Sea Turtle Egg Fusariosis) warns of the need to control this pathology in the design of conservation plans for these threatened species, some of which are critically endangered in biogeographic regions concrete as the Pacific ”, says Javier Diéguez-Uribeondo, scientist of the Royal Botanic Garden (CSIC) and principal investigator of the study, whose results have been published in the journal PLOS Pathogens.

The first massive mortalities in sea turtle nests were detected in Cape Verde in 2010 by Diéguez-Uribeondo and Adolfo Marco, also a CSIC researcher. “Later studies of the isolated microorganisms of these affected areas allowed to know the pathogenic species involved. Both belong to the genus Fusarium and have been detected in all species of sea turtles, and nesting areas studied: Australia, Cape Verde, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Spain, United States, Gabon, or Ascension Islands,”  says Dieguez -Uribeondo.

Scientists warn about the need to increase knowledge about the biology and genetic diversity of these pathogens. The study was carried out by researchers from the laboratory of emerging pathogenic fungi of the Royal Botanic Garden (CSIC) in collaboration with researchers from the Universities of Pennsylvania and California and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The research has been possible thanks to the work with the collections of pathogen cultures of the genus Fusarium of the Royal Botanic Garden. This research center has collections of fungi related to the decline of biodiversity with a total of more than 3,000 copies and DNA sequences for the study of emerging diseases in endangered species.

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