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Genetics provide key to fight crown-of-thorns starfish

Genetics provide key to fight crown-of-thorns starfish
The study results could be used to disrupt COTS starfish breeding patterns. Credit: Professor Sandie Degnan

Scientists are one step closer to combating coral-destroying crown-of-thorns starfish, following a University of Queensland study into the pest's genetics.

In their study, University of Queensland Ph.D. candidates Marie Morin and Mathias Jönsson analyzed the genetics of the toxic coral-eating invertebrates found on the Great Barrier Reef. The research is published in PLOS Biology.

"By understanding how crown-of-thorns (COTS) starfish genes work, we can unlock the mechanisms behind their key behaviors and find ways to stop them breeding," Morin said.

"In this study we looked at ',' which is the process by which the information encoded in a gene is used to create a functional gene product, such as a protein or RNA.

"We identified more than 2,000 which changed significantly between summer and winter."

The research team also found ways to isolate the genes that communicate during the starfish's reproduction process.

"This is a promising sign because if we can find ways to disrupt this communication genetically, it could stop the starfish reproducing," Morin said.

The next step in the research will involve further and potentially the development of natural pest control measures on the Great Barrier Reef.

Senior author Professor Bernard Degnan said analyzing wild starfish, as opposed to captured starfish, was critical.

"Analyzing in a lab can cause changes to the animal and its functional genetics," he said.

"By capturing crown-of-thorns starfish in the deep heart of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), we were able find out what's really happening in ."

GBR Foundation COTS Control Innovation Program Director Dr. Mary Bonin said while crown-of-thorn starfish were native to the Great Barrier Reef, outbreaks were a major threat and protecting coral was critical for the Reef's long-term health and resilience.

"This exciting research paves the way for the development of new control tools to help address this threat to reef health," Dr. Bonin said.

More information: Marie Morin et al, Seasonal tissue-specific gene expression in wild crown-of-thorns starfish reveals reproductive and stress-related transcriptional systems, PLOS Biology (2024). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3002620

Journal information: PLoS Biology

Citation: Genetics provide key to fight crown-of-thorns starfish (2024, May 15) retrieved 30 May 2024 from https://phys.org/news/2024-05-genetics-key-crown-thorns-starfish.html
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