Scientists use ‘assisted evolution’ in attempt to save coral reefs

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The Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology occupies its own tiny island in Kaneohe Bay, known as Moku o Lo‘e, or, alternatively, Coconut Island. Kaneohe Bay was the inspiration for what is called the “super coral” project. For much of the twentieth century, it was used as a dump for sewage. By the nineteen-seventies, a majority of its reefs had collapsed. A sewage-diversion program led to a temporary recovery, but then invasive algae took over and the water turned into a murky soup.

In 2005, the state teamed up with the Nature Conservancy and the University of Hawaii to devise a contraption—basically, a barge equipped with giant vacuum hoses—to suck algae off the seabed. Gradually, the reefs revived. There are now more than fifty so-called “patch reefs” in the bay.

In one set of experiments planned for the super-coral project, corals from Kaneohe Bay will be raised under the sorts of conditions marine creatures can expect to confront later this century. Some colonies will be bathed in warm water, others in water that’s been acidified, and still others in water that’s both warm and acidified. Those which do best will then be bred with one another, to see if the resulting offspring can do even better.

The power of selective breeding is all around us. Dogs, cats, cows, chickens, pigs—these are all the products of generations of careful propagation. But the super-coral project pushes into new territory. Already there’s a term for this sort of effort: assisted evolution.

Read full, original post: Unnatural selection

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