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Can Human Medicine Cure a Coral Epidemic?

New research indicates that antibiotics used in humans can also help sick coral.

Corals are marine invertebrates that often form compact colonies of many identical individuals. Coral species include the important reef builder species that inhabit tropical oceans. The best known example on Planet Earth is the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia.

Recent research proves that certain antibiotics have a positive effect on corals as they try to recover from a tissue-eating disease. This disease is caused by bacteria located in the coral's outer parts. The bacteria start to form and latch onto the coral until it dies.

Divers first became aware of this horrible disease in 2014. The disease drew attention because it was affecting corals near Miami, Florida. The nickname for this disease is skittle-D, which rapidly eats coral tissue until the coral itself disintegrates. Unfortunately, this disease has no permanent cure. The disease currently rages on and is spreading across the Great Florida Reef, which spans approximately 360 miles.

However, corals with skittle-D have recovered over time when treated with amoxicillin. The disease has reportedly returned to some recovered corals. Fortunately, treatments from the antibiotic seem to slightly help the situation. Treatments for skittle-D are still being investigated. Scientists and researchers have to treat this disease with trial and error, while not infecting the coral terribly.

Researchers have two promising treatments called chlorinated epoxy and amoxicillin. Both of these treatments are in the form of a paste. Amoxicillin paste seems to be the treatment that is most effective and heals corals at a higher rate. When applied, the paste helped to slow down the spread of the tissue-eating disease. These treatments can lessen the effects of skittle-D for up to 11 months.

Since these treatments are only temporary, scientists and researchers are still working to find a permanent antibiotic treatment to fully cure skittle-D.

[Sources: ScienceNewsForStudents; nationalgeographic.com]

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