Rachel Levin from The University of New South Wales, Australia and her international team of researchers may have found a solution to reduce coral 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 ocean temperatures which harm Symbiodinium, leading corals to lose their symbiotic Symbiodinium and therefore starve to death.
In research published in Frontiers in Microbiology, the researchers use sequencing data from Symbiodinium to design genetic engineering strategies for enhancing stress tolerance of Symbiodinium, which may reduce coral bleaching due to rising ocean temperatures.
“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, Levin does warn that this is no easy miracle cure […] “Extensive, rigorous studies evaluating any potentially negative impacts would be absolutely necessary before any field-based trials on this technology begin.”
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