About the episode
Anyone who dived or snorkeled in places like the Great Barrier Reef twenty years ago and would do it again now would immediately see the huge differences. Coral reefs around the world are in poor condition. They are fading, many species are struggling to cope with the current warming and acidification of the oceans, and in some places the reefs have been damaged too much – by us – to repair.
Scientists around the world are therefore working to preserve and restore coral. American researchers have looked into the relationship between coral and the algae with which they live. These algae live in the cells of the coral, where they convert the sun’s energy into food. They return some of these nutrients to the coral.
In a new study, they show what happens at the very beginning of this collaboration. The coral releases a protein – called LePin – at the mouth which binds to passing friendly algae. The algae are thus in a way marked and then absorbed.
Now that they know, researchers hope to use the mechanism to help corals in need. Not all coral species have been shown to be effective in absorbing algae that can withstand heat and acidification, while in other species these algae ensure that they can cope better with current conditions.
It is possible that vulnerable coral species can be adapted in such a way that these algae are correctly recognized, labeled and absorbed.
Read more about research here: Corals mark friendly algae for ingestion – revealing a possible conservation target.
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