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A group of marine scientists from CSIRO, the University of Melbourne, and the Australian Institute of Marine Science, also known as AIMS, have been able to develop a kind of coral that can withstand extreme temperatures in a seawater environment caused by coral bleaching. The heat-resistant corals are extremely needed for bleaching-prone areas, including the Great Barrier Reef.


Enhanced Corals with Coral Bleaching Tolerance Through Heat-Evolved Microalgae Discovered by Scientists

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(Photo: NASA, MISR / WikiCommons)

The coral was developed to be tolerant against the high temperatures the bleaching causes. The process of creating the resistant corals includes the strengthening of the microscopic algae cells located inside the coral tissue, also known as the microalgal symbiont.

AIMS symbiont special laboratory was used to isolate and culture the microalgae that were extracted from the coral. After the culturing process, the experts used a technique to expose the microalgae to above-standard levels of temperature for 4 years. This method, also known as directed evolution, was proven effective and can help the corals adapt and live throughout the abnormal heat conductions beneath the water bodies, the University of Melbourne reports.

The University of Melbourne and AIMS professor Madeleine van Oppen said that after exposing the microalgae to temperature extremities, the now-induced microalgae are then fused back into the coral larvae. Van Oppen said that through the outstanding communication of the microalgae and corals, they have been able to generate a coral that is more tolerant to the impact of reef bleaching.

According to the study published in the journal Science Advances entitled "Heat-evolved microalgal symbionts increase coral bleaching tolerance," the corals with increased heat tolerance are potential fighters to deflect the impact of bleaching in reefs caused by heatwaves. These heatwaves frequently occur in summer as an effect of climate change, which was the same environment set up to which the microalgae were exposed. This abnormal increase in temperature affects the Great Barrier Reef significantly.

Van Oppen said that the enhanced microalgae show a decrease in photosynthesis gene activity. The lack of photosynthesis compensates for the increase in the gene activities responsible for managing carbon and sugar production levels.

The enhanced microalgae are also found to have an increase in heat stress gene activity. Combining all of the factors have improved the tolerance of the coral larvae against heat, transitioning normal algae into heat-evolved microalgae, the professor added.

ALSO READ: Microbes of Deep-Sea Community Can Survive Extreme Heat, Influence Carbon Cycling


Climate Change vs. Corals, Great Barrier Reef

Patrick Buerger, the principal science expert of the CSIRO Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform SynBio FSP, emphasized that the reduced coral protection was undoubtedly an effect of climate change. The corals that survive the extreme condition beneath the ocean are close to impending destruction as the temperature of the waters intensifies and the severity of the coral bleaching infliction increases.

This new approach regarding the coral's heat resistance through the manipulation of microalgae properties is bound to save thousands of coral reefs, especially in the Italy-sized Great Barrier Reef. Coral reef protection is greatly overlooked in today's natural concerns, but the ongoing researches will protect the corals and, ultimately, our planet against our changing climate. Further studies will include the examination of the heat-resistant microalgae in adult colonies that belong to multiple species.

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