A super-algae to save our seas

July 20, 2017, Frontiers
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Coral reefs are our most diverse marine habitat. They provide over US$30 billion to the world economy every year and directly support over 500 million people. However, they are vulnerable with climate change impact models predicting that most of our coral reefs will be eradicated within this century if we do not act immediately to protect them.

Dr Rachel Levin from The University of New South Wales, Australia and her international team of researchers may have found a solution to reduce bleaching by genetically engineering the microalgae found in corals, enhancing their stress tolerance to ocean warming.

These microalgae are called Symbiodinium, a genus of primary producers found in coral that are essential for coral reef health and, thereby, critical to ocean productivity. Symbiodinium photosynthesize to produce molecules that feed the corals, which is necessary corals to grow and form coral reefs.

Coral bleaching is caused by changes in which harm Symbiodinium, leading corals to lose their symbiotic Symbiodinium and therefore starve to death.

Different species of Symbiodinium have large genetic variation and diverse thermal tolerances which effect the bleaching tolerance of corals. In research published in Frontiers in Microbiology, the researchers use sequencing data from Symbiodinium to design genetic engineering strategies for enhancing of Symbiodinium, which may reduce coral bleaching due to rising ocean temperatures.

"Very little is known about Symbiodinium, thus very little information is available to improve coral reef conservation efforts. Symbiodinium is very biologically unusual, which has made it incompatible with well-established genetic engineering methods. We therefore aimed to overcome this roadblock by conducting novel genetic analyses of Symbiodinium to enable much needed research progress" explains Dr Rachel Levin, on the difficulties of studying these microalgae.

The researchers have now highlighted key Symbiodinium genes that could be targeted to prevent coral bleaching.

"Symbiodinium that have been genetically enhanced to maintain their symbiosis with corals under rising ocean temperatures has great potential to reduce coral bleaching globally" they suggest.

However, Dr Levin does warn that this is no easy miracle cure, "If lab experiments successfully show that genetically engineered Symbiodinium can prevent , these enhanced Symbiodinium would not be immediately released onto . Extensive, rigorous studies evaluating any potentially negative impacts would be absolutely necessary before any field-based trials on this technology begin."

In order to progress, other researchers will need to contribute to this research to advance the information currently available, "We have developed the first, tailored framework to be applied to Symbiodinium. Now this framework must be comprehensively tested and optimized. This is a tall order that will be greatly benefitted by collaborative efforts."

Explore further: Newly described algae species toughens up corals to endure warming oceans

More information: Rachel A. Levin et al, Engineering Strategies to Decode and Enhance the Genomes of Coral Symbionts, Frontiers in Microbiology (2017). DOI: 10.3389/fmicb.2017.01220

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Jul 20, 2017
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1 / 5 (3) Jul 20, 2017
I'm here.

Too bad they forgot that corals and algae have survived in seas much warmer than now.
It's unlikely the genes for surviving in warmer water has disappeared from the gene pool.
Lex Talonis
2.5 / 5 (2) Jul 22, 2017
Yes, Jesus designed his world to survive smiting, hell fire and burning sulphur.

And he will restore order after her re-arrives after descending from low earth orbit.
1 / 5 (1) Jul 23, 2017
Super stupidity of the AGW Cult to destroy our seas.

There, fixed that headline.
5 / 5 (1) Jul 23, 2017
Anyone can comment here: 11-year-olds, paid Russian trolls, Charles & David Koch, ... still I feel compelled to turn aside the facile and mundane from time to time. Yes, corals can "survive" warmer seas, just as some dinosaurs survived the asteroid (birds are their nearest & most widespread relatives). But 90% of species were wiped out. It took millions of years to recover.

The problem with common sense is exactly the "common" part.
3 / 5 (2) Jul 23, 2017
This assumes that the scientists know all of the unintended consequences of creating this genetically modified algae and releasing it into the ocean. Once released there is no turning back. Climate science is out of control and yelling fund me, fund me. God forbid that they should get a real job and stop living off the government's teat.

The next 20 years will most likely prove that AGW is the most successful large scale fraud in history but not before they try to sell Co2 causes cooling to the sheep.

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