Scientists unlock the genetic mystery of why corals reject life-saving algae

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Algae can help corals adapt to warming seas, but scientists have discovered they have relationship problems. It's complicated.

The algae can shelter inside the coral, thrive and provide food for the coral. It is a symbiotic relationship that existed as long as the corals were in the sea. But the algae that find comfort in the most superficial corals today cannot manage the heating waters.

Durusdinium's trischium can do all this and take the heat. He simply can't do it fast enough.

The FIU researchers have discovered why – they cannot overcome the corals' immune response. The FIU research team also found that this particular algae cannot open all the genetic doors in the coral cells to create a fruitful relationship.

Without algae, corals turn white.

"When they whiten for a long period of time, corals are more susceptible to disease," said Emmanuel Medrano, the lead author of the study and FIU biological science student who led the research as a university student. "This leads to the breakdown of the health of coral reefs, which affects the diversity of marine and fishing species."

Corals could avoid a potential knockout punch at the hands of heated seas if scientists can help D. trenchii bypass the coral immune response and open those genetic doors.

Preventing corals from bleaching events is critical to reversing the global trend of coral reef loss.

Marine science associate professor Mauricio Rodriguez-Lanetty, who directs the lab where the research was conducted, hopes his team can manipulate these mechanisms to help new algae engage in a more stable symbiosis. They are currently studying whether it is possible to modify the genes of D. trenchii, so it is easier to thrive in corals or if it is possible to alter the genes of corals to favor D. trenchii.

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.

/ Public release. View in full here.

. [tagToTranslate] Florida International University

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