Researchers at CSIRO develops ‘heat resistant’ corals to fight bleaching

Mumbai | Updated on May 15, 2020

The team included researchers from CSIRO, Australia's national science agency, the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the University of Melbourne has successfully developed a potential agent that could help coral reefs increase their heat tolerance, as per the report by Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

Coral reefs came under threat and started vanishing due to repercussions climate change and global warming.

"Coral reefs are in decline worldwide," CSIRO Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform (SynBio FSP) science lead Dr. Patrick Buerger said as cited in the report by

"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."

Buerger explained that the team made the coral more tolerant of temperature-induced bleaching by bolstering the heat tolerance of its microalgal symbionts—tiny cells of algae that live inside the coral tissue.

"Our novel approach strengthens the heat resistance of coral by manipulating its microalgae, which is a key factor in the coral's heat tolerance," Dr. Buerger said.

The research team made the microalgae heat resistant by isolating it and culturing using a technique called “directed evolution” in the specialist symbiont lab at AIMS. Then the cultured microalgae were exposed to warmer temperatures over a period of four years to see if they survive hotter conditions.

"Once the microalgae were reintroduced into coral larvae, the newly established coral-algal symbiosis was more heat tolerant compared to the original one," Dr. Buerger said.

According to Professor Madeleine van Oppen, of AIMS and the University of Melbourne, the study found that the heat-tolerant microalgae are better at photosynthesis and improve the heat response of the coral animal. "These exciting findings show that the microalgae and the coral are in direct communication with each other," he added.

"This breakthrough provides a promising and novel tool to increase the heat tolerance of corals and is a great win for Australian science," SynBio FSP Director Associate Professor Claudia Vickers said as cited in the report by CSIRO.

Published on May 15, 2020

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