Coral Genomes Could Aid Reef Conservation
July 24, 2011
"One of the coral species hit hardest by climate change has become the first to have its genome published. The genome of the branching coral Acropora digitifera appears online today in Nature1. The draft sequence of a related species common on Australia's Great Barrier Reef, the staghorn coral Acropora millepora, was released online earlier this month, prior to formal publication.
Corals are under threat from environmental change caused by global warming—which has led to warmer, more acidic oceans—as well as from disease and other stresses. David Miller, a coral biologist at Queensland's James Cook University in Townsville, Australia, one of the leaders of the A. millepora project and a co-author on the A. digitifera paper, says the advent of information from coral genomics won't necessarily save these particular species. But their genomes are helping scientists to identify genes responsible for coping with environmental stress in corals, and might eventually feed into coral conservation efforts.
The two sequenced species, like other corals, are cnidarian invertebrates that live in a cosy symbiotic relationship with algae called zooxanthellae, dinoflagellate organisms that give corals their colour. Under stressful environmental conditions, the algae die or lose their pigmentation, causing the coral to turn white and die, too—a process known as bleaching. Both A. digitifera and A. millepora have been particularly affected."
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