The centuries-old kosher ban on shellfish has new appeal in light of recent research.
A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that vibrio, a deadly bacteria sometimes found in oysters, is becoming more abundant as oceans warm. Researchers looked at coastal regions in the North Atlantic and the North Sea where rising temperatures have spurred the growth of the bacteria. In recent years, Northern Europe and the U.S. Atlantic coast of the United States have seen “unprecedented” numbers of vibrio infections.
Vibrio causes an illness known as vibriosis. The U.S. sees an estimated 80,000 cases of vibriosis each year, killing around 100 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most people contract the illness by eating undercooked seafood, namely oysters. A smaller number become infected by swimming in contaminated saltwater with open wounds. Those with weakened immune systems are especially vulnerable.
Vibrio thrive in warm, coastal waters. Their numbers peak in the summer months. As carbon pollution cooks the North Atlantic, summers are growing longer and oceans are becoming more favorable to the bacteria. Ocean acidification, another consequence of carbon pollution and major a threat to shellfish, may do little to deter the proliferation of vibrio.
“Vibrios are associated with zooplankton, mainly copepods,” said Rita Colwell, University of Maryland microbiologist and a co-author of the study. “Copepods are tough little critters and will be able to tolerate acidification to some degree.”
This study points to the future direction of climate research, with scholars drawing on findings from climate science, ecology, oceanography and epidemiology to link carbon pollution to global warming to changes in ecosystems to the growth of bacteria that threaten human health. Colwell, who began her work on this subject in the early 1990s, says collaboration is key.
“This study is more elegant, using molecular methods and, yes, interdisciplinary teamwork,” she said. “Scientific research is becoming more interdisciplinary, and that is a good thing, in my opinion.”