Can genetic engineering save the world’s coral reefs from climate change?

| | April 30, 2019
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Coral researchers Line Bay (left) and Madeleine van Oppen (right) want to figure out how to help corals adapt to warming seas, before it is too late. Image: Cameron Laird
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The relentless rise of global temperatures is imperiling coral reefs around the world. Just 75 kilometers offshore from the research center, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef—the world’s largest—has been battered by a string of marine heat waves that have killed half its coral. The threat has transformed [Madeleine] Van Oppen into a leading advocate for something considered radical just a few years ago: creating breeds of coral that can withstand underwater heat waves.

Van Oppen and others are re-engineering corals with techniques as old as the domestication of plants and as new as the latest gene-editing tools. And the researchers are adopting attitudes more common to free-wheeling Silicon Valley startups than the methodical world of conservation science.

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Genetically engineering corals to make them better able to withstand heat and resist bleaching is among the possibilities, [coral geneticist Line] Bay says. She concedes that the idea will face resistance, like all proposals to release modified organisms into the environment. But that doesn’t mean it should be shelved, she says. “The worst thing that we could do is ignore the genetic engineering because it’s frightening for some people, and then get 10 or 15 years down the road and realize it’s the only option.”

Read full, original post: Researchers embrace a radical idea: engineering coral to cope with climate change

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