Epizootic shell disease (ESD) in the American lobster (Homarus americanus) is continuing to affect the southern New England lobster population, and the etiology of the disease has not been well defined. We hypothesized that a dysbiotic shift in the shell microbial biofilm played a key part in the etiology of the disease. We analyzed the community structure of the surface microflora of apparently healthy and diseased lobsters using multitag pyrosequencing to correlate the abundance of key taxa within the lesions. Discriminant analysis (DA) was used to identify taxa in the microbial community that were associated with diseased and healthy states. Among the 170 bacterial taxa that were identified, 58 were helpful in determining the diseased and healthy states. The remaining 112 were not significantly different between the 2 states. The genus Aquimarina was present in high abundance in both healthy and diseased lobsters, but had a significantly higher abundance on animals in the diseased state. However, DA demonstrated that this genus does not strongly discriminate between the diseased and healthy state. Phylogenetic analysis indicated that there was significant strain diversity of this genus in all the samples analyzed. Our results indicate that the lesions seen in ESD may be viewed as being correlated with a polymicrobial component rather than being caused by a discrete pathogen.
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