On Thursday and Friday, 14-15 January, Ian and Elliot participated in the “Sea Star Wasting Summit” at the Seattle Aquarium (sponsored by the Aquarium and Boeing Corporation). Collaborator Lesanna Lahner, chief vet at the Aquarium organized the symposium to bring together researchers across the geographic range of the disease to discuss research results and future priorities. Remarkably, this was the first time most of the research groups, including those who participated on the initial investigation, were under one roof, including pathologists, veterinarians, citizen scientists, ecologists, and parks managers.
The symposium comprised talks by most investigators about what they have seen and what they are seeing. Contrary to press releases, the cause of the wasting disease hasn’t fully been elucidated (however, we have a candidate pathogen, the Sea Star associated Densovirus), and the mechanisms by which the disease is actually caused by any pathogen or environmental condition has yet to be fully resolved. The workshop gave us the opportunity to discuss our research and immediately bore fruit on two fronts: We identified common observations related to pathology and trends in relation to environmental parameters which would not have been obvious had we not sat down in the same room. These discussions have provided strong leads in the cause of the disease, and how the disease may be triggered.
The symposium was moderated by Thierry Work, a respected pathologist from the USGS, and was attended by Christopher Mah, a renowned expert in sea star taxonomy and biology. Both are not intimately involved in the wasting disease projects – however their opinions and knowledge from the ‘outside’ perspective were amazingly helpful and will take us in new directions. Also attending were Laura James and Jan Kocian, two divers from the region who provided unique and very helpful insight about the progression of the disease.
Watch this space for details in the future. We have ideas, we now have a new direction, and once again the Team and collaborators remain very excited about solving this riddle.