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itn080122 (2)New aquatic diseases with the potential to devastate New York’s fresh water and marine fisheries were the central topic of concern when State Senator Owen H. Johnson visited the SoMAS Marine Animal Disease Laboratory (MADL) on December 18, 2007.

As the only marine pathology laboratory in the state, the MADL at SoMAS is in the forefront of marine animal disease research and diagnostic programs in the region. With the increasing threat of new aquatic pathogens and diseases as a result of species introductions and climate change, research conducted at the MADL has become even more vital to the economic viability of the fishing and shellfish industries, and ecological stability of marine and aquatic ecosystems in NY.

Created by the NY State Legislature in 2000, the state-of-the-art MADL was established at SoMAS as part of the Marine Disease and Pathology Research Consortium to better understand some of the state’s most pressing marine disease issues. State Senator Owen H. Johnson is very familiar with marine issues and serves as Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on the Long Island Marine District, and is also a Commissioner of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. The Senator’s visit was an important step in educating, policy makers about new disease threats facing the region’s aquatic and marine ecosystems and highlighting the important research taking place at SoMAS to better manage and understand these challenging issues.

The MADL has been involved in groundbreaking research in the field of marine disease, including Quahog Parasitic Unknown (QPX) disease investigations, considered to be the gravest disease threat to New York’s shellfish industry. A direct and positive result of the lab’s research has been the re-opening of the hard clam transplant fishery from areas in Raritan Day. During their investigations, scientists screened over 5,000 hard clams to determine the presence and threat of QPX in NY waters. They have also discovered a new disease of the American lobster, excretory calcinosis, which may have played a role in the recent decline of lobster populations in Long Island Sound.

Another disease crisis facing New York waters is VHSV (Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia Virus), perhaps the most serious fish disease problem confronting the region. This virus has already caused massive fish die-offs in the Great Lake’s. The lab has begun a monitoring effort for VHSV in New York’s marine environment including investigating the sources and prevalence of the disease.

The MADL staff includes two SoMAS faculty members, Drs. Bassem Allam and Mark Fast. Dr. Allam studies diseases of molluscan shellfish, while Dr. Fast focuses on aquatic diseases and immunology. Currently, nine SoMAS graduate students are working on research projects with the MADL that range from exploring the role of aggregates as vectors of microbial pathogens to understanding the transmission of QPX in hard clams. Many undergraduates and students from local high schools volunteer as interns in the lab where they are taught important research skills and given opportunities to get involved in local marine disease projects.

”All members of the lab realize how important it is to update stake holders about how tax payer funds arc used for the benefits of the general public. Senator Johnson’s visit to our lab was an excellent opportunity to do so and to communicate our lab accomplishments on topics that have direct impact on marine resources and policy in New York State,”said SoMAS faculty member Dr. Bassam Allam.

For more information on the MADL, visit: http://somas.stonybrook.edu/`MADL

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