Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Tuesday 18 May |
Saint of the Day: St. John I
home iconArt & Culture
line break icon

Restoring the Great Barrier Reef with science

GREAT BARRIER REEF

Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 08/07/17

Researchers are proposing gene alteration to save ocean ecosystems ravaged by rising temperatures.

The Great Barrier Reef was recently proclaimed dead in a tongue-in-cheek obituary. While CNN reassured us this was an exaggeration, it brought the impending threat of coral annihilation to the forefront of public thought. Now, researchers are rushing against the clock to find a solution to rampant coral bleaching, which is the main culprit.

Smithsonian.com reports that Rachel Levin, a molecular biologist, has recently proposed a way to save these marine ecosystems, in a paper in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology. Her strategy would repopulate bleached coral with lab engineered symbionts, rather than attempting to find healthy specimens in the wild and relocate them.

This method could actually work. Smithsonian explains that since coral bleaching is a breakdown of a symbiotic union, introducing new symbionts could restore an entire reef:

The coral animal itself is like a building developer who constructs the scaffolding of a high rise apartment complex. The developer rents out each of the billions of rooms to single-celled, photosynthetic microbes called Symbiodinium. But in this case, in exchange for a safe place to live, Symbiodinium makes food for the coral using photosynthesis. A bleached coral, by contrast, is like a deserted building. With no tenants to make their meals, the coral eventually dies. Though bleaching can be deadly, it’s actually a clever evolutionary strategy of the coral. The Symbiodinium are expected to uphold their end of the bargain. But when the water gets too warm, they stop photosynthesizing. When that food goes scarce, the coral sends an eviction notice.

The rising water temperature is causing the reefs to evict their Symbiodinium, but there are none around to replace them. Which has lead Levin to the conclusion that she needs to create “super-symbionts” which can withstand the rising temperatures and continue to produce food for the reefs.

Levin was able to identify a strain of Symbiodinium which was resistant to heat and inserted copies of these crucial heat tolerating genes into the weaker Symbiodinium. This created new a strain adapted to live with corals from temperate regions.

However, it was no easy task to insert these genes, since the cells are encased in armored plates, cell membranes and a cell wall. The next hurdle became how to insert these genes without breaking and killing the cell. For this, Levin employed a virus, which she modified to carry the heat-resistant genes, and infected the cells with it.

While this method seems extreme, Levin does not consider herself to be a “crazy scientist,” citing gene altering in mosquitoes as an even wilder use of science:

Protecting humans from devastating diseases like malaria or Zika—scientists have been willing to try more drastic techniques, such as releasing mosquitoes genetically programmed to pass on lethal genes. The genetic modifications needed to save corals, Levin argues, would not be nearly as extreme. She adds that much more controlled lab testing is required before genetically modified Symbiodinium could be released into the environment to repopulate dying corals reefs.
Tags:
EnvironmentScience
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
1
SAINT MATTHIAS
Philip Kosloski
Why Matthias was chosen to replace Judas as an apostle
2
ascension AND ASSUMPTION
Philip Kosloski
Ascension vs. assumption: What is the difference?
3
ascension of Jesus
Philip Kosloski
Was Mary present at the ascension of Jesus?
4
BENOIT JOSEPH LABRE
Larry Peterson
Benedict XVI called him “one of the most unusual saintsR...
5
KNEELING
Philip Kosloski
How to pray the Divine Praises
6
I.Media for Aleteia
These 30 shrines will lead the Rosary Relay for end of the pandem...
7
Eric Clapton, Luciano Pavarotti, East London Gospel Choir
J-P Mauro
Hear Clapton and Pavarotti sing a prayer to the “Holy Mothe...
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.