Researchers have successfully grown corals in the laboratory to regenerate dying reefs

Like the vast majority of species living on earth, coral reefs are very vulnerable to global warming. The rise in temperature of the oceans causes them to bleach. When the water is too hot, the corals separate from the algae in their tissues.

Unfortunately, most of them do not stand up to such a test. As such disasters repeat themselves and spread around the world, there is less and less chance for these unusual animals to recover. In the past 30 years, the earth has already lost nearly 50% of its coral reefs, the Voanews site explains in an article. “Scientists have found that Australia’s Great Barrier Reef lost more than half of its coral populations between 1995 and 2017.”

Species that promote marine biodiversity

Worse still, a study published last year claims that our planet could lose all of its coral reefs by 2100 if action is not taken to combat climate change. “Rising sea surface temperatures and acidic water could eradicate almost all existing coral reef habitats by 2100,” said the author of the study published in February 2020 on news.agu.org.

A scenario that would be catastrophic in that these natural bio-constructed structures serve as food and shelter for marine flora and fauna, thus promoting biodiversity. Hoping to make things better, a Japanese research group conducted laboratory experiments to try to grow Acropora tenuis-like coral cells.

Very susceptible to changes in sea conditions

To describe their work and reveal the results obtained, the researchers published an article in the journal Marine Biotechnology. Acropora tenuis corals, found primarily in the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and Pacific Ocean, are indeed very sensitive to changes in marine conditions.

Rising ocean temperatures and global warming are killing coral reefs around the world. Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Richard Whitcombe

“As temperatures rise, massive coral bleaching and infectious disease outbreaks are becoming more common. In addition, carbon dioxide that is absorbed from the atmosphere into the ocean has already started to lower the calcification rates in reef organisms, ”reports oceanservice.noaa.go.

As a result, they are significantly susceptible to the bleaching phenomenon. The study was led by Noriyuki Satoh, professor at Okinawa Science and Technology Doctoral College. Their goal is therefore to find solutions to reverse the trend and thus preserve the world’s coral reefs or at least slow down their rate of degradation.

Important research for the conservation of coral reefs

The team, which included Professor Kaz Kawamura, an expert in cell culture development and maintenance for marine organisms at the University of Kochi, Japan, claims they managed to develop the first stable coral cell cultures in the laboratory. “Establishing stable cell lines for marine organisms, especially corals, has proven very difficult in the past,” Noriyuki Satoh said in a statement. It is therefore a remarkable achievement.

“This success could prove to be a pivotal moment in deepening our understanding of the biology of these vital animals,” he added. Seven of the eight cell types grown in Petri dishes showed high stability and multiplied continuously for almost a year.

In addition, the cell lines withstood freezing, which was designed to transport them around the world for other teams to study. In short, the results of this study could be critical to the conservation of coral reefs as scientists can understand how corals develop and can be cultivated.

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