What you can do to help end a terrible epidemic

There is an epidemic currently sweeping up and down the west coast of the United States.  From Alaska to southern California, something wicked is causing lesions, malformations, and mass casualties.  To help support this cause, it’s not the CDC, WHO, nor Red Cross to whom you should send a donation.  Instead, pick this up at your local packie:

Rogue Ales & Spirits has teamed up with Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO) to brew Wasted Sea Star Purple Pale Alea beer for drinking while thinking about the shrinking starfish population.  That’s right, the epidemic is not happening to people (thankfully, this time), but our star-shaped sea friends are being wiped out by an outbreak of sea star wasting disease.

Giant pink sea star in final stages of sea star wasting syndrome. Bear Cove, Port Hardy; December 21, 2013. © 2013 Jackie Hildering
Giant pink sea star in final stages of sea star wasting syndrome. Bear Cove, Port Hardy; December 21, 2013. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

By the time it was first noted as an epidemic in the summer of 2013, millions of sea stars had disintegrated into the ocean water along the western coast of the U.S. (see picture).  Some early hypotheses as to the cause of seastar wasting disease included oscillations in water temperature due to climate change, an abundance of strong storms, or even Fukushima. Late last year, Ian Hewson, C. Drew Harvell, and colleagues used Koch’s postulates to demonstrate that the cause of sea star wasting disease was an infectious pathogen.

Koch’s postulates are 4 rules, defined by a German physician, Dr. Heinrich Hermann Robert Koch, that establish a causal relationship between a microbe and a disease.  These postulates are:

1. The microbe must be found in organisms suffering from the disease, but should not be found in healthy organisms.
2. The microbe must be isolated from a diseased organism and grown in culture.
3. The cultured microbe must cause disease when inoculated into a healthy organism.
4. The microbe must be reisolated from the newly infected organism and must be identical to the first isolated strain.

In general, most pathogens abide by these rules, but there are exceptions.  For example, “carriers” of disease (such as Typhoid Mary) do not truly fit the requirement of the first postulate because they do not suffer from disease.  As such, most modern infectious disease researchers do not necessarily require all of these postulates.  But they do use these core principles to define a contagion-a microbe that can be taken from one organism and cause disease in another.


This is exactly what Ian Hewson and the Harvell lab did with the sea stars.  They prepared homogenates (like milk shakes, but not to drink) from sick sea stars, filtered them so that only very small viruses could get through, and introduced the slurry to tanks of healthy sea stars.  Viola, the healthy sea stars became sick!  Then they used sophisticated instruments to read the genetic code present in the homogenates to discover that the virus causing sea star wasting disease was similar to viruses in the parvovirus family.  Parvovirus B19 causes a rash in infants–a syndrome known as fifth disease.  Most of the viruses in this family actually do not infect humans, but instead a wide range of animals.  And Hewson and colleagues had discovered a new member, one that struck down sea stars with great force.  They named this virus Sea Star-associated DensoVirus (SSaDV) because it most closely resembled a densovirus that infects sea urchins.

rogue-ales-logoRogue, a brewery located in Oregon and sharing a coast with their sick sea star brethren brewed their Wasted Sea Star Purple Pale Ale with purple corn nectar to mimic the purplish hue of the fateful stars.  In their words, this beer is “Dedicated to Sea Stars” and a portion of proceeds go directly to research being conducted at PISCO.  I have unfortunately yet to find this brew to try it myself, but if you trust user ratings on sites/apps such as Beer Advocate (3.44/5) or Untappd (3.7/5), it looks like this purple ale could be quite good.  Anything that combines my two favorite passions–infectious disease and craft beer–without being either the grossest concoction or the scariest bioweapon, is definitely wicked awesome in my book.

For more info on sea star wasting disease, please visit:
The Marine Detective
C. Drew Harvell lab
The Guardian

One thought on “What you can do to help end a terrible epidemic

  1. You really make it seem really easy together with your presentation however I to find this matter to be really one thing that I think I’d by no means understand. It kind of feels too complicated and very large for me. I’m looking forward to your subsequent publish, I’ll attempt to get the grasp of it!|

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *