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Coral reefs in warming seas

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Disease outbreaks are often associated with hot weather. Because many bacteria typically multiply more rapidly in warmer conditions, it's a commonly held notion that warm-weather outbreaks are a straightforward consequence of greater numbers of the microbial culprit.

But a team of researchers, led by the University of South Carolina's Pamela Morris, has uncovered some unexpected details in the temperature-dependent virulence of Vibrio coralliilyticus, a marine pathogen found across the globe. It's not an increase in bacterial abundance, but rather the way a small temperature increase modifies protein expression that makes the bacterium so destructive.

"We have a lot of pathogens that we think of as being more dangerous in the summer months," said Morris, a marine scientist with USC's Belle W. Baruch Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences. "Vibrio cholera is one--there are more cholera outbreaks when it's warm. We also have more coral diseases in the warmer summer months."

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