A Lethal Virus of the Blue Crab Callinectes sapidus May Be Present Throughout its Trans-hemispheric Range

Eric James Schott1, Emily Maya Flowers2, Anapaula Vinagre3, Shanai Brown4 and Andréa Almeida1, (1)University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science-IMET, Institute of Marine and Environmental Science, Baltimore, MD, United States, (2)University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, United States, (3)Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Instituto de Ciências Básicas da Saúde, Porto Alegre, Brazil, (4)Morgan State University, Biology, Baltimore, MD, United States
Blue crabs, Callinectes sapidus, are key epibenthic predators and support valuable fisheries throughout North and South America. On both continents, they are also used to produce soft shell crabs, a value added product. On the Atlantic coast of the USA, mortality of blue crabs in soft shell production is often 25% or greater. A majority of those crabs have been found to be infected with a reovirus lethal to blue crabs. The CsRV1 virus infects multiple ectodermal and mesodermal tissues and was first described as RLV (reo-like virus) in the late 1970s. However its potential for affecting large numbers of crabs was not fully recognized until 2010 when molecular methods were developed to study its prevalence in aquaculture and the wild. Using a sensitive Rt-qPCR assay for the virus, a multi-year survey of crabs from the mid-Atlantic USA coast and Chesapeake Bay revealed that approximately 20% of adult and juvenile crabs were positive for CsRV1 genomic RNA. If blue crabs in the wild die from CsRV1 infections as rapidly as captive infected crabs, it suggests that significant numbers of wild blue crabs die from CsRV1 infections. Crab fishery managers in the Chesapeake Bay recently recognized that there is a need to better understand the role of diseases in natural mortality.

The CsRV1 virus is found in C. sapidus throughout the USA range, and has been discovered in diseased Brazilian C. sapidus from Rio Grande do Sul. Genetic analysis of the virus shows that strains of CsRV1 found in Brazil are distinct from the strains identified in the USA. This pan-hemispheric range suggests that the virus has long been a component of blue crab ecology. Much more study is needed to understand the history and impacts of CsRV1 throughout the USA, Brazil, and the vast coastline in between.