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Aquatic polymers can drive pathogen transmission in coastal ecosystems
Shapiro, K.; Krusor, C.; Mazzillo, F.F.; Conrad, P.A.; Largier, J.L.; Mazet, J.A.K.; Silver, M.W. (2014). Aquatic polymers can drive pathogen transmission in coastal ecosystems. Proc. - Royal Soc., Biol. Sci. 281(1795): 9 pp.
In: Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B. The Royal Society: London. ISSN 0962-8452, more
Peer reviewed article  

Available in  Authors 

    Enhydra lutris nereis (Merriam, 1904) [WoRMS]; Toxoplasma gondii (Nicolle & Manceaux, 1908) [WoRMS]; Marine
Author keywords
    extracellular polymeric substances transparent exopolymer particles Toxoplasma gondii zoonotic pathogen marine transmission sea otter

Authors  Top 
  • Shapiro, K.
  • Krusor, C.
  • Mazzillo, F.F.
  • Conrad, P.A.
  • Largier, J.L.
  • Mazet, J.A.K.
  • Silver, M.W.

    Gelatinous polymers including extracellular polymeric substances (EPSs) are fundamental to biophysical processes in aquatic habitats, including mediating aggregation processes and functioning as the matrix of biofilms. Yet insight into the impact of these sticky molecules on the environmental transmission of pathogens in the ocean is limited. We used the zoonotic parasite Toxoplasma gondii as a model to evaluate polymer-mediated mechanisms that promote transmission of terrestrially derived pathogens to marine fauna and humans. We show that transparent exopolymer particles, a particulate form of EPS, enhance T. gondii association with marine aggregates, material consumed by organisms otherwise unable to access micrometre-sized particles. Adhesion to EPS biofilms on macroalgae also captures T. gondii from the water, enabling uptake of pathogens by invertebrates that feed on kelp surfaces. We demonstrate the acquisition, concentration and retention of T. gondii by kelp-grazing snails, which can transmit T. gondii to threatened California sea otters. Results highlight novel mechanisms whereby aquatic polymers facilitate incorporation of pathogens into food webs via association with particle aggregates and biofilms. Identifying the critical role of invisible polymers in transmission of pathogens in the ocean represents a fundamental advance in understanding and mitigating the health impacts of coastal habitat pollution with contaminated runoff.

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