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An unknown mutation is saving sea stars from wasting disease

After an outbreak of sea star wasting disease (SSWD) hit sea star populations along North America’s west coast in 2013, 81% of the sea star population in California died. Now, 5 years after the outbreak, researchers have found that the disease may have altered the surviving sea stars gene pool, The New York Times reports. Scientists sequenced the DNA of sea stars that had been living prior to the outbreak and those that were born to the survivors—the next generation. When they compared the two, the results suggested the sea star survivors had evolved genes that protected them from SSWD, researchers report this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Although there was a genetic shift observed among pre- and postepidemic sea stars, scientists still do not understand how these changes contributed to the survival of the new population.

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