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Climate change may be culprit in Antarctic fish disease outbreak


Credit: University of Oregon Climate change might be behind an unusual disease outbreak among Antarctic fish.

For about a decade, UO biologists John Postlethwait and Thomas Desvignes have been visiting the West Antarctic Peninsula. They study a unique group of fish that has adapted to the harsh polar environment. But on a 2018 field excursion, they noticed something especially strange: a large number of those fish were afflicted with grotesque skin tumors.

Collaborating with virologists and pathologists, they determined the tumors were the result of a parasitic illness, an unprecedented outbreak on a scale never seen before near Antarctica. Waters and melting ice might have contributed to the outbreak in this particularly vulnerable ecosystem, the team reports in June in the journal iScience .

“When life conditions become challenging, animals become more prone to disease,” said Thomas Desvignes, chief scientist during the research expedition and lead author on the study.

The researchers also worked with UO undergraduate Chloe DaMommio to create a short, free, online graphic novel about the research.

Most fish that swim through the frigid waters near Antarctica are part of a group called notothenioids. Notothenioids have evolved many unique adaptations to their icy environment, including specialized proteins that prevent their blood […]

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