To protect coral reefs from bleaching due to rising temperatures, Australian scientists claim to have developed a more “heat-resistant” coral.
Coral bleaching occurs when corals expel the colorful microalgae that live there and provide them with nutrients, due to rising temperatures amid climate change. This makes the corals white and they starve.
However, scientists from the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) have now claimed to develop a laboratory-grown strain of microalgae, which is more heat tolerant.
“Climate change has reduced coral cover, and surviving corals are under increasing pressure as water temperatures rise and the frequency and severity of coral bleaching events increase,” said Dr. Patrick Buerger, scientific manager of the CSIRO Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform (SynBio FSP), science manager. declaration.
“Our new approach strengthens the heat resistance of coral by handling its microalgae, which is a key factor in heat tolerance of coral,” added Dr. Buerger.
Researchers isolated the microalgae from the coral and grew them at increasingly warm temperatures over a four-year period. This helped the algae to adapt and survive the warmer conditions.
“Once the microalgae were reintroduced into the coral larvae, the newly established coral-algae symbiosis was more heat tolerant than the original,” said Dr. Buerger.
“We have found that heat-tolerant microalgae are better at photosynthesis and improve the thermal response of the coral animal,” said Professor Madeleine van Oppen, AIMS and the University of Melbourne.
Oppen added that these “exciting discoveries” indicate that coral and microalgae are in direct communication with each other.
The next step is to further test the algal strains in adult colonies across a range of coral species.
“This breakthrough provides a promising and new tool for increasing heat tolerance in corals and is a great victory for Australian science,” said Claudia Vickers, associate professor and director of SynBio FSP.
The research was carried out by CSIRO in partnership with AIMS and the University of Melbourne.
Earlier this year, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia had experienced an episode of mass bleaching, due to warmer temperatures, particularly in February. It was the third event in just five years and caused a huge loss of coral. Two-thirds of the reef was damaged by similar events in 2016 and 2017.