Discovery of the cause for white pox disease on elkhorn coral

James Porter jporter at
Tue Jun 18 21:01:33 EDT 2002

    Our paper demonstrating that a common fecal enteric bacterium is killing
coral in the Florida Keys has just been published in the Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences.  The web link to read the article is:


    This disease is called white pox, and is caused by the enterobacterium
Serratia marcescens, which is found in the intestines of animals, including
the human gut.  This is the first time that a common member of the human gut
microbiota has been shown to be a marine invertebrate pathogen.  This
disease is killing off much of the elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) in the
Florida Keys.  Average loss rates throughout the Keys are near 85 percent.
On some reefs near Key West, however, the disease has already killed more
than 98 percent of the elkhorn coral.
    For this research, we satisfied Koch¹s postulates.  16s rDNA sequence
analysis of the white pox bacterium showed 100 percent identity to Serratia
    This finding demonstrates that we cannot blame global climate change as
the sole source of our problems on coral reefs.

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