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View Diary: Fetid Mucus Slime Spreading in Oceans, Warming Implicated (218 comments)

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  •  Figured I'd see a response of this sort... (9+ / 0-)

    If you'd taken my two leading sentences to heart or read diaries I'd written in the past here or here your impression might have been different.

    There is nothing whatsoever new about any microorganism presented in this article. Also, concentrations of organic matter that may enrich for heterotrophic microbes are not uncommon. Activities including global warming that increase the nutrient load of aquatic ecosystems and thereby facilitate algal blooms or, apparently, the appearance of marine slimes are a major concern, particularly as they may impact marine animals... and that is quite enough to worry about without implying that viruses which are common in marine waters are all of a sudden going to choose to propogate in humans because the water is warmer. Our world is, RIGHT NOW, swarming with "bacteria" and "viruses"- you ingest them continuously. Some of them live inside you and are more or less essential to your function (including, for that matter, E. coli) and the vast majority of them are benign/neutral. The only verified pathogen identified in this article is Vibrio harveyi, which has a history of acting as a pathogen in marine animals... not in humans.

    Again, if this point didn't come across before: global warming is a major problem that requires a major response. Warming and other human activities' impact on the oceans has been and will continue to be a travesty and a concern, in some circumstances, for public health. The severity of the concern does not justify misleading information regarding environmental microbiology.

    I'm glad the authors were out looking at this... but there are several holes and people need to appreciate the context and not overstate the case regarding public health.  

    •  I'm with you Kimball (13+ / 0-)

      I'm a marine microbial ecologist, so this IS my area of expertise... and I can see some gaping holes in their conclusions.

      For example...They should have done more detailed genetics on the coliforms, etc to PROVE that they were pathogenic strains.

      There is a reason that it's in PLOS-One, and not a more prestigious journal (especially, since I know the lead author, and he'd probably try to go as prestigious as possible).  I'd wager that the paper got kicked out from at least one more prominent journal.

      You're right.  The paper is interesting, and definitely warrants concern and further investigation.  But the public health implications are still unclear.

      For me the most alarming finding was the exponential increase in mucus outbreaks in 20 years.

      "My greatest strength, I guess it would be my humility. Greatest weakness, it's possible that I'm a little too awesome." -Barack Obama 10/16/08

      by Hopeful Skeptic on Tue Oct 13, 2009 at 12:16:24 AM PDT

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      •  I'd heard that about PLoS-One (6+ / 0-)

        Though I'm glad, abstractly, that there's a path to get the data out there for further exposure to the community. Judging from the Ancona address, the translation may have come across a bit blunt as well I imagine.

        I'm more of a sediments person myself- and still feel a bit young in microbiology- so I definitely appreciate the confirmation that I'm not off-base in my impression.

      •  two things about that.... (3+ / 0-)

        One, aren't vibrios cholera by definition?

        Two, given the diversity of the microbial soup in the sea snot (or should we call it sea pus?), wouldn't you agree that it needs to be treated as a potential public health issue on a pre-emptive basis, rather than a reactive basis?

        (And three, I could give a flying hoot about prestiege; what matters is whether the science is sound.  Rational critiques are sensible, and more work is needed, but PLoS is a viable forum for getting ideas circulating in the science community toward the goal of further research.)  

        •  no, and yes (5+ / 0-)
          1. Not all vibrio are pathogenic, just as not all E. coli are pathogenic.

          There are lots of naturally occurring vibrio species in the oceans that do not cause cholera.  The one they specifically discuss in the paper is Vibrio harveyi, which is a naturally occurring marine bacterium that can cause opportunistic infections in marine organisms (fish, etc.) but is not pathogenic to humans.

          1. I think that this needs to be taken seriously, and definitely warrants further investigation (and said as much in  my earlier comments).  However, I think most of the risks that the paper describes are damages to the marine ecosystem, rather than human health.  So an emphasis on the ecosystem is the approach I'd like to see in future studies. (not that it's up to me in the slightest!)

          If human pathogens are really a concern, there are lots of genetic tests to check for them (since human pathogenic bacteria have been studied in much more detail than most environmental bacteria), and those should absolutely be done on these "slime blooms".

          "My greatest strength, I guess it would be my humility. Greatest weakness, it's possible that I'm a little too awesome." -Barack Obama 10/16/08

          by Hopeful Skeptic on Tue Oct 13, 2009 at 03:33:51 AM PDT

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          •  thanks... (6+ / 0-)

            For some reason I had thought that vibrio = cholera.  Good to get that one corrected.  

            And i agree that the ecosystem effects are more important & need to be studied.  I get the impression that discussing public health impacts is a way to get attention on an issue that might be ignored if it was "merely" an ecosystem impact.  

            The day that sea snot washes up on expensive beachfront properties in the USA, is the day it'll get the attention it deserves.  

            And here's me thinking that between sea snot, red tides, and fish kills, even regardless of sea level rise and violent weather, property within a mile or so of coastlines is going to become highly undesirable over the next century or so.  

            •  That was my take on it as well (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              G2geek

              They threw in the public health aspect to make it "more relevant" to a larger audience.

              It's a shame us humans don't often care about the environment for it's own sake.  But hopefully that is changing.

              "My greatest strength, I guess it would be my humility. Greatest weakness, it's possible that I'm a little too awesome." -Barack Obama 10/16/08

              by Hopeful Skeptic on Tue Oct 13, 2009 at 10:38:09 AM PDT

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        •  oh, and regarding prestige (6+ / 0-)

          There is a reason some journals have a high rejection rate for submitted papers... they take the review process very seriously, and because they get a lot of submissions, they need to chose the best of them.  So if a paper makes claims that aren't fully supported by the included data, the paper is rejected, and goes back to the authors to fix the issues.

          The less prestigious journals have fewer submissions, and therefore a lower bar for acceptance.  So somethign may be accepted at PLOS-one that would have been rejected from PLOS (their flagship journal).  In fact, I had a paper rejected from PLOS (because it was not "novel enough") and in their rejection letter, they suggested I submit to PLOS-One.  So I'm speaking from personal experience when I say that the quality of publications is lower in some journals

          Of course it's not a perfect system, and a perfectly fine paper, with important scientific conclusions, may be rejected and end up in a less prestigious journal.  I know of many examples of this.  

          However, with respect to this specific paper... I do think the authors reached a bit beyond their data in their conclusions.  And there were some relatively straightforward experiments they could have done to produce the data to support their conclusions.  THAT is why I suspect the paper was rejected from more prestigious journal(s) (plus knowing the first author... I strongly suspect that he is unlikely to go to a lower-tier journal like PLOS-One as a first choice of journal).

          "My greatest strength, I guess it would be my humility. Greatest weakness, it's possible that I'm a little too awesome." -Barack Obama 10/16/08

          by Hopeful Skeptic on Tue Oct 13, 2009 at 03:50:29 AM PDT

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      •  Thanks for the info (4+ / 0-)

        I'm a biologist but definitely one with little/no expertise in either microbiology or marine systems.  Given the grave concerns about ocean acidification I am going to try and learn more about that aspect of marine biology

        •  I can tell you from home aquarium keeping (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Hopeful Skeptic

          that marine fish don't mind much if the specific gravity of their water is a bit lower than usual but when it's pH falls, they're definitely distressed and more prone to disease.

          A jackass can kick down a barn but it takes a carpenter to build one.--Sam Rayburn (D-TX)

          by Ice Blue on Tue Oct 13, 2009 at 10:16:34 AM PDT

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      •  I think this article is a first step (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        StrayCat, kyril, Hopeful Skeptic

        Clearly there are many scientific issues to be addressed. Yes I agree with you about what's most alarming.

        For me the most alarming finding was the exponential increase in mucus outbreaks in 20 years.

        look for my DK Greenroots diary series Wednesday evening. "It's the planet, stupid."

        by FishOutofWater on Tue Oct 13, 2009 at 06:46:52 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  The details arent important (0+ / 0-)

        and you can geneticall test every microgram of one psuedo-organism/symbiotic form and find nothing.. and another one will have evolved thousands of mammal, fish or human infectious virii or bacteria.

        Why is it "we" only consider evolution to be something that happened in the past?

        •  I'm not sure I follow you (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          cdreid, Kimball

          I think the details are actually pretty important.  We all have billions of E. coli in our GI tract every day.  But there are only a very few strains that cause us to be sick.  The rest are what we need to help digest our food.  But they all fall under the category "coliforms".

          So the details of which coliforms they found are quite important... if they are claiming to have found pathogens.

          And, as I said in other comments, the genetics of human pathogens are the best understood of any bacteria.  So its straightforward to test for those strains.

          And I'm really not sure where you're going with the evolution question. I study environmental microbes... as communities that are constantly evolving (including genetic exchange between species).  So I'm quite aware that evolution is NOT only a thing of the past.  However, it's a relatively slow process... so you will not see "thousands" of new pathogens arise overnight (lucky for us!).  That's why scientists have a pretty good handle on which bacteria are pathogenic and which ones are not.

          "My greatest strength, I guess it would be my humility. Greatest weakness, it's possible that I'm a little too awesome." -Barack Obama 10/16/08

          by Hopeful Skeptic on Tue Oct 13, 2009 at 05:31:50 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Right now you dont (0+ / 0-)

            see rapid evolution. That was my point.

            You want to develop a deadly new bioweapon? You dont inject humans with something, try to flip a gene here and there, do it again.. You put organisms that can survive inhumans in 10,000 petri dishes . You slightly raise the radiation level to radically increase the mutation rate. You inject 100 monkeys with the results after a while. You draw blood from monkeys who do less well and repeat.

            These things are biofactories. No the organisms they evolve may not be directly harmful to humans.. ever even. But they may be lethal to fish. Or worse... something like Plankton. We both know how horrific that would be.

            Its not always about pathogens. Or even human pathogens. A simple lifeform that outcompetes the wrong thing on the bottom of the food chain and humanity is history. And you know this.

            •  the key to that kind of rapid evolution (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              cdreid, Kimball

              is a mutagen (like the radiation you mentioned).  That's necessary to cause more changes in the DNA than would normally occur in nature.  

              There is no such mutagen in the mucus.  So I would not expect them to be factories for pathogens (or any other rapidly evolving organisms), any more than any other microbial aggregate.

              "My greatest strength, I guess it would be my humility. Greatest weakness, it's possible that I'm a little too awesome." -Barack Obama 10/16/08

              by Hopeful Skeptic on Wed Oct 14, 2009 at 03:03:33 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  I was going to say (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kyril, Kimball

      I'm surprised to hear all those human pathogens would be able to survive in seawater, especially viruses that afflict humans.  You'd think the saline content would be high enough to kill off most non-marine microorganisms.

      But what do I know.  I'm only a former freshwater and marine hobbyist who has remedied more than one fish disease.  

      A jackass can kick down a barn but it takes a carpenter to build one.--Sam Rayburn (D-TX)

      by Ice Blue on Tue Oct 13, 2009 at 08:59:36 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Well just a thought (0+ / 0-)

      but perhaps you should have read my post rather than injecting the post you expected hoped would appear. Or perhaps you did and really are that ignorant of the evolutionary process.

      Every lifeform on earth evolves constantly. The more exposed to extreme conditions the more likely the rate of evolution is high. We're creating conditions now that are literally creating living evolutionary hyper-laboratories. Once again..  there is a reason we dont simply dump human waste in giant lakes and leave it there. There is a reason that Medical Professionals and Researchers are seriously concerned about the giant factory animal farms and their waste storeage and production.

      To make it simplery: put a hundred petri dishes full of bacteria/virii in a room and leave them. Come back a week later and check you wont see very much evolutionary change.
      Put a large container of the same in a room with a higher than normal em radiation level and you are very likely indeed to see rapid evolutionary change.

      If you actually seriously have any objection to anything ive just said you should remember or look up the first experiments into genetic change/manipulation with flies.

      This is exactly the sort of threat that can devastate humanity and is a reason for extreme concern. As i recall at one time people werent concerned with the biorisks of deforestation either with "authorative" biologists and biochemists poopooing such a thought and using calls to  authority to silence them.

      •  time out... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        cdreid

        but perhaps you should have read my post rather than injecting the post you expected hoped would appear. Or perhaps you did and really are that ignorant of the evolutionary process.

        There's nothing in my posts that warrants this kind of combativeness.

        there is a reason we dont simply dump human waste in giant lakes and leave it there.

        I've pointed out at several points in this thread that wastewater contamination of marine ecosystems is a major public health concern. The authors aren't suggesting such causality for the mucilage (and testing for that sort of thing would be fairly straightforward).

        There is a reason that Medical Professionals and Researchers are seriously concerned about the giant factory animal farms and their waste storeage and production.

        ...because without proper care microorganisms present in waste can contaminate the food supply, and sterilization in a factory setting is not a simple matter. Enteric bacteria in, say, cattle are distinct from the organisms mentioned in this study (although many may be closely related).

        If you actually seriously have any objection to anything ive just said you should remember or look up the first experiments into genetic change/manipulation with flies.

        ...with the caveat that these microorganisms do not sexually reproduce (lateral gene transfer notwithstanding).

        I'm not sure what your argument is with anything I've said in this thread- yes evolution can lead to an organism not previously known as a pathogen to become infectious. Pathogens may shift in virulence. However, if you want a candidate for a massive concentration of bacteria and viruses that could pose a dramatic threat to public health, our own bodies are far, far more threatening. As you like, stated from an evolutionary biology perspective:

        no matter the rates of evolution present in the mucilage, there is very little selective pressure for many of those organisms to develop a parasitic relationship with human anatomy given that they inhabit a vastly different environment.

        I'd be happy to continue discussing this matter with you If you agree to stop hanging me in effigy at each turn...

        •  I am an abrasive debater (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Kimball

          forgive me for that. In defense your post came off as uncritically dismissive of a diary that did indeed have some science to back it up.

          And re human body as incubator - the human body adapts to new life forms. As we repeatedly see with the flu it may be that perhaps introduction of infectious agents from other species may have more devastating potential.

          Consider ebola. Most likely so lethal because the human body has seen nothing like it.

          •  accepted and appreciated (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            cdreid

            I'm sorry I came across that way. My intent was not to dismiss the research out of hand but rather to clear up some potential misconceptions and point out that certain of the conclusions reached by the authors are highly speculative. Some of my concerns (e.g. no explanation for the identity of ARISA peaks) would be relatively easy for the authors to implement. One hopes that they DO take the time to expand upon their work in the future.

            Taking the ARISA as an example - the peaks correspond to taxonomic units of microorganisms based on the length of a segment in the genome between two known genes. This segment may vary in sequence and in length with evolutionary distance and evolves relatively fast... but a single length of the spacer may correspond to two related but extremely distinct microorganisms. There may be little if any difference in the peak corresponding to E. coli and that corresponding to an entirely benign gamma proteobacterium. Constructing an environmental clone library to more rigorously identify the organisms present in the sample is a couple weeks of work. Without it, the conclusions are significantly weaker.

            I am no expert on ebola, but even there the transmission mechanism is generally thought to be terrestrial mammals, in which case transmission is a whole lot more practical.

            To summarize my opinion in another way... the potential hazard to marine life presented by their results thus far entirely justifies concern over the matter and further research. Those results justify our discussing the matter in this forum. Suggesting an imminent threat to human health may end up being justified... but the data presented simply does not yet support that conclusion.

            •  I think his real point (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Kimball

              was that we're creating hazards to the ecosphere as a whole.

              As for research. As you know far better than we do.. theres simply no money out there for what you do. Especially for ocean life forms. Its not sexy and doenst fill big pharmas pockets.

              I agree theres no real threat to human life directly. the threat is to the ecosphere. The oceans are changing at a horrific rate and people dont seem to understand that if the oceans die so do we.

              Btw - My dream was to be a geneticist back in the day. Long before anyone even thought of sequencing the genome. What they are discovering now is simply amazing. Whole new levels of genetics. We really need to do major investment in non-pharmacological biochemistry and genetic research. We know almost nothing about life just when we thought we knew it all. The benefits of the research would be world altering.

            •  And re: ebola (0+ / 0-)

              I will be dismissed as a conspiracy theorist but i fully believe that if it wasnt created in a biolab (probably impossible) the doctors we sent certainly were in the employ of US biowarfare. If you watch the only documentary ive seen which includes actual footage of the outbreak and the american doctors reaction it was stunning. They literally fought to try and stop the native doctors from transfusing sick patients with the blood of survivors. They werent there to heal.. they were there to take clinical notes on the effectiveness. Straight out of the military biowarfare handbook.

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