How coral cures your ills

Next time you successfully fight off a nasty infection, give thanks to the Great Barrier Reef. A dramatic discovery by an Australian team of scientists has revealed that the ability of humans to resist bacterial diseases may go as far back in our ancestry as corals.

Prof. Miller has also been involved with an international team in a second, equally important discovery – helping for the first time to clarify the molecular process by which corals form their calcium-rich skeletons.

“With the world’s oceans becoming more acidic due to man-made carbon dioxide emissions, the whole basis by which corals and other marine organisms form their skeletons and shells – known as calcification – is under threat.

“Many marine scientists fear that if the oceans become more acidic as we redouble fossil fuel use, many of these lifeforms will not be able to cope – and our coral reefs could literally dissolve before our very eyes,” he explains.

“Understanding how coral forms its skeleton at the molecular level is part of the basic science required to properly understand what is going on in the world’s coral reefs, and to predict the outcome with some certainty. At the moment, while we fear acidification will be damaging for corals, we don’t know how bad – whether it will affect all corals equally, whether it will inflict extensive damage, or will wipe them out completely.”

Prof Miller says that the most important implication of ongoing work which builds on the published study is that, while corals can to some extent cope with ocean acidification on its own, the combination of increasing temperature and acidity are much more damaging. “This is significant, because climate change will result in just those conditions that are most harmful to skeleton formation and maintenance,” he says.

“Corals have been around for a long time, and over hundreds of millions of years the coral lineage has survived previous periods of ocean acidification. However, modern are fragile things, and reefs as we know them may not exist in the later part of this century if we do not deal immediately with global CO2 emissions”.

Phys.org, 1 July 2013. Full article.


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