In case you haven't heard, the world's coral reefs are in drastic decline, which is really going to be a bummer for the future of earth. Earth enthusiasts are, predictably, concerned. Coral reefs serve about a million environmental and economic purposes—from supporting massive ecosystems of sea life to buffering coastal settlements from storms and erosion. Plus, coral has been around for about 500 million years, and is just an all-around cool dude. Don't die on us, coral!
Possible reasons for coral decline include global warming, declining algae populations, marine pollution, and poop. But researchers are exploring a new possibility that may be contributing to the dying reefs: SLUTTINESS. Oops, I meant viral disease. Specifically, herpes. That's right—coral decline just got a whole lot sexier.
According to an item in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology:
One of the surprises from recent research was the predominance in corals of herpes viruses – similar but not identical to the herpes virus that can infect humans. Herpes viruses appear to constitute a majority of the viruses found in corals, and one experiment showed that herpes-like viral sequences were produced in coral tissues after acute episodes of stress.
"We were shocked to find that so many coral viruses were in the herpes family," Vega-Thurber said. "But corals are one of the oldest animal life forms, evolving around 500 million years ago, and herpes is a very old family of viruses that can infect almost every kind of animal. Herpes and corals may have evolved together."
Awww, that's kind of cute, actually! Coral and herp are just old-timey bros like that. (In a related story, it turns out the dinosaurs all died of the clap.) It's unclear at this point whether the viruses found in coral are actually contributing to coral decline; it's entirely possible to harbor viruses while remaining perfectly healthy. Science is looking into it!
But even more interesting/unfortunate/mucosal, the herpes virus in coral might be linked to humans:
A "mucus" sometimes found on corals can harbor human-borne viruses, and levels of these viruses have been correlated with terrestrial human population density.
Woooooooo! I think we all know what that means. You don't have to spell it out for me, science—I can read between the lines! Everyone, please be on the lookout for the scoundrel who gave the coral herpes. He will most likely be wearing an Ed Hardy shirt and have a severely mangled penis.