Finding the Biological Culprit Behind 2012 Marine Epidemic

FundaGeek is pleased to announce an important research project to be supervised and administered by Principal Investigator and Associate Professor Jose V Lopez, MS, PhD. A marine epidemic called “small orange band” (SOB) disease of the common yet iconic “barrel” reef sponge, Xestospongia muta, re-emerged on South Florida sponges in April 2012.

Gross SOB symptoms appeared as bleaching, decaying and crumbling of the affected sponge tissues, followed by rapid death of the whole or most of the sponge individual. The sponges can be almost completely “dissolved” by this phenomenon. During this outbreak, anecdotal reports and video surveys carried out by REEF-RESCUE.org found that 15- 20% of local large barrel sponges died or were adversely affected. The SOB condition has been witnessed periodically, and has been histologically described in scientific studies. However, the question remains “What is the cause of this blight and destruction?”  YET TO DATE, NO CLEAR CAUSE OR PATHOGEN HAS BEEN IDENTIFIED. This condition could appear again, but with further research on the possible cause we could be better prepared to handle it.

Dr Lopez stated, “In May 2012, our laboratory was able to collect multiple samples of diseased and healthy sponges for in depth genetic and microscopic analyses. We hypothesize that current molecular genetics biotechnologies may be able provide basic answers to what factors are possibly causing SOB.”

Recent studies and breakthroughs in sequencing technologies are revealing the inner mechanisms of how our cells and bodies work. Sponges are the most primitive animal form, but they may still educate us on fundamental biological concepts, such as the role of microbial symbioses. This project will apply lessons learned from recent symbiosis studies such as the current Human Microbiome Project (HMP), which applies “high throughput” DNA sequencing methods to characterize the thousands of microbes that live in and within our bodies, often to our benefit. For example, some bacterial species benignly live in our intestinal tracts and help digest plant materials, or provide essential vitamins that our bodies cannot produce.

These molecular biotechnology approaches can be applied to REEF studies and may indirectly help PROTECT REEFS. Coral reef ecosystems are in peril due to many threats, such as pollution, global warming and disease . However, previous appeals to various agencies have not yet resulted in funding for this project.

Until adequate funds are obtained, the Xestospongia muta samples we have collected will remain frozen, archived and unanalyzed. Thus, this is a direct appeal for funds that will be carried out by our Marine Microbiology and Genetics Laboratory in the brand new Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Ecosystems Sciences of Nova Southeastern University (NSU), in Dania Beach Florida (www.nova.edu/ocean). This is a state of the art facility with modern molecular labs to conduct the work. NSU is a non-profit university, and 100% of donations for this project will be used towards the science or the rewards related to the science.

The research team will greatly appreciate any support given and will highlight and fully acknowledge donations. To view their project and rewards for donations, visit http://www.fundageek.com/project/detail/632/Identifying-Sponge-Disease-on-Florida-Reefs

About Professor Jose V Lopez, MS, PhD
Professor Lopez received his PhD in molecular biology and evolutionary genetics in 1995 (http://www.nova.edu/ocean/overview/faculty-staff-profiles/jose_lopez.html). He currently is associate editor of the Journal of Heredity. Since 2007, his current research encompasses diverse projects on marine invertebrate-microbial symbiosis, gene expression, to marine microbiology, metagenomics and placing marine sponges on a global Tree of Life. His overall research experience has resulted in 38 peer-reviewed publications. Recently, Professor Lopez obtained funding from the Florida Institute of Oceanography to develop sponges as sensitive bioindicators for oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill and will be presenting this work at the upcoming Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem Science Conference.

About FundaGeek LLC
Founded in September 2010, FundaGeek LLC is a next generation entry in the rapidly growing field of crowdfunding. The company’s co-founder and CEO, Mr. Daniel D. Gutierrez, is founder and CEO of AMULET Development Corporation, a developer of custom web database software applications for business. The company’s co-founder and President, Mr. Cary C. Harwin, is founder and CEO of Catalyst Development Corporation, a developer of Internet components and decision analysis tools.

FundaGeek is headquartered in Yucca Valley, California and the company’s website is found at: www.fundageek.com

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