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Stony Brook Researchers Gain Insight into Lobster Shell Disease
Marine Fisheries Resource Center - Press Release

Antoinette Clemetson, New York Sea Grant, (631) 727-3910

STONY BROOK, NY, November 18, 2009. - Stony Brook’s Marine Animal Disease Laboratory (MADL) is participating in a joint research initiative to study shell disease in the American lobster, a critical commercial species of the northeast.  Researchers use the term “Epizootic Shell Disease” (or ESD) to describe the infection that affects lobsters in Long Island Sound (LIS) and Southern New England, and there is a noticeable difference in its occurrence in this area.  The disease is more prevalent in the eastern and central basins of LIS, with relatively low occurrence in the western basin. The MADL is leading a study to determine how a lobster’s immune system responds to this infection and, the links (if any) between disease prevalence in different fishing grounds and the lobster’s natural ability to fight the pathogens that are responsible for the infection.  Information being extracted from lobsters in LIS is being compared to lobsters caught in Maine where the disease is rarely observed in the wild.
The search for the etiological agent causing ESD is ongoing but several bacteria isolated during these investigations are capable of degrading chitin (which is the chief constituent of the shell).  MADL researchers also found a noticeable difference in defense factors being seen in lobsters that reside in different geographic areas. Generally, Maine lobsters display much better response towards the infection when compared to lobsters in western LIS.  Hot summer weather increases the stress levels and can affect immune responses in lobsters living in eastern LIS.  Researchers were surprised to discover that lobsters in the western basin have slightly thicker (higher mass to surface area ratio) shells when compared to populations in the eastern basin, although the links between this trait and resistance to disease remain unclear.  MADL scientists also learned that lobster carapace contains antimicrobial compounds potentially capable of fighting bacterial infections. They are now focusing on characterizing these compounds before comparing different populations.
These results are interconnected to other studies under this research initiative to better understand ESD. For example, researchers now have a better understanding about how a lobster recognizes other lobsters that come from different stocks and changes in the behavior response of healthy lobsters towards lobsters suffering with the disease. 
A special public workshop will be hosted in 2010 to share the knowledge that was obtained after three years of continuous research.  For more information, visit seagrant.gso.uri.edu or contact New York Sea Grant’s fisheries specialist Antoinette Clemetson at (631) 727-3910.

The Marine Animal Disease and Pathology Laboratory (MADL), a consortium of the School of Marine Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) at Stony Brook University, NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation, Cornell University and New York Sea Grant, is funded by the NYS Legislature to conduct diagnostics and research into the causes and effects of disease and pathogens in marine fisheries. Other partners include Long Island University, NYS Dept. of Health and NYS Dept. of Agriculture and Markets.

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