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A purple ochre sea star's leg disintegrates as it dies from sea star wasting syndrome. Photo: Elizabeth Cerny-Chipman / Oregon State University

In Southern California, sea stars may be staging a comeback after a mysterious disease devastated populations and species across the West Coast, per the Orange County Register. Scientists in southern California report seeing adult stars in tide pools for the first time in years.

Why it matters: Sea Star Wasting Syndrome causes the animals to melt and dissolve in just a matter of days before they die, limbless. Sea stars are considered a 'keystone species', which means they play a bigger role in supporting their ecosystem that other species. When they're removed from their environment, biodiversity drops rapidly.

Yes, but: This is just one area, and this doesn't mean the disease is gone. A major outbreak is happening in the Salish Sea in Washington, and the disease appears to be persisting at low levels from North/Central California up through British Columbia.

Some good news: Across the coast, there's been an abundance of baby sea stars. This 'pulse', first identified a few years ago, appears to be growing, per a September report by UC Santa Cruz researchers. Although some juveniles show signs of the disease, researchers hope they'll prevent the populations from collapsing.

The history: Sea Star Wasting Syndrome first appeared in ochre stars off the coast of Washington in 2013, and spread to several species up and down the West Coast by 2015. Die-offs like this have happened in past decades, but only in isolated areas. There's never been a coast-wide die-off before.

What's happening: So far, scientists don't know if the disease is caused by a virus, a bacteria, or a combination thereof. Anecdotally, some sea stars seem to do better when treated with antibiotics, but that could be because virus-caused lesions are prone to infection. A USGS study found the illness was caused by something virus-sized, and other research has implicated densovirus.

Go deeper: The University of California, Santa Cruz maintains a database of sea star die-offs and issues reports several times a year.

Go deeper

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: The good and bad news about antibody therapies — Fauci: Hotspots have materialized across "the entire country."
  2. World: Belgium imposes lockdown, citing "health emergency" due to influx of cases.
  3. Economy: Conference Board predicts economy won’t fully recover until late 2021.
  4. Education: Surge threatens to shut classrooms down again.
  5. Technology: The pandemic isn't slowing tech.
  6. Travel: CDC replaces COVID-19 cruise ban with less restrictive "conditional sailing order."
  7. Sports: High school football's pandemic struggles.
  8. 🎧Podcast: The vaccine race turns toward nationalism.
Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
Updated 8 hours ago - Economy & Business

Dunkin' Brands agrees to $11B Inspire Brands sale

Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Dunkin' Brands, operator of both Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins, agreed on Friday to be taken private for nearly $11.3 billion, including debt, by Inspire Brands, a restaurant platform sponsored by private equity firm Roark Capital.

Why it matters: Buying Dunkin’ will more than double Inspire’s footprint, making it one of the biggest restaurant deals in the past 10 years. This could ultimately set up an IPO for Inspire, which already owns Arby's, Jimmy John's and Buffalo Wild Wings.

Ina Fried, author of Login
10 hours ago - Technology

Federal judge halts Trump administration limit on TikTok

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A federal judge on Friday issued an injunction preventing the Trump administration from imposing limits on the distribution of TikTok, Bloomberg reports. The injunction request came as part of a suit brought by creators who make a living on the video service.

Why it matters: The administration has been seeking to force a sale of, or block, the Chinese-owned service. It also moved to ban the service from operating in the U.S. as of Nov. 12, a move which was put on hold by Friday's injunction.