Science 3 min read

New Heat Resistant Corals can Fight Reef Bleaching

Ethan Daniels /

Ethan Daniels /

Healthy corals are known for their vibrant colors.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case in several water bodies across the world for a while now. That’s due to the increasing temperature of the oceans.

As the water temperature increases, corals expel the algae — zooxanthellae — living in their tissues. As a result, the corals turn entirely white, a condition that scientists call coral bleaching.

Although corals can survive this bleaching event, they are under more stress and subject to mortality.

CSIRO Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform (SynBio FSP) science lead, Dr. Patrick Buerger explained:

“Climate change has reduced coral cover, and surviving corals are under increasing pressure as water temperatures rise, and the frequency and severity of coral bleaching events increase.”

Now, Buerger and colleagues may have developed a way to fight reef bleaching. The researchers developed corals that are more tolerant of temperature-induced bleaching.

Now, Buerger and colleagues may have developed a way to fight reef bleaching.
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The team includes researchers from CSIRO, Australia‘s national science agency, the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) as well as the University of Melbourne.

The researchers explained how they did it in their published paper.

Creating Heat Resistant Corals to Combat Reef Bleaching

The researchers had to influence the zooxanthellae to create the heat resistance coral. In other words, they bolstered the heat tolerance of the microalgal symbionts.

It begins with isolating the microalgae from corals and culturing them at them in a specialized lab at the AIMS.

After that, the researchers used a technique called direct evolution to expose the cultured microalgae to an increasingly warmer temperature. So, they did this regularly for over four years.

As you can imagine, the treatment helped the zooxanthellae adapt and survive hotter temperatures.

In a statement, Dr. Buerger said:

“Once the microalgae were reintroduced into coral larvae, the newly established coral-algal symbiosis was more heat tolerant compared to the original one.”

The researchers exposed the microalgae to temperatures similar to that of the current summer marine heatwaves. It’s also the same level of warmth that’s causing coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef.

According to the researchers, the heat tolerance of the algae also improved the heat responses of the coral animals. This indicates that the zooxanthellae and the corals are communicating.

Now the researchers are working on testing the algal strains in adult colonies across a variety of coral species.

Read More: Reviving Dead Coral Reefs Using Underwater Loudspeakers

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Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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