Preparing For Reef Wipeout, Corals Bred In Captivity

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Coral spawning at the Horniman museum. Photograph: James Craggs/Horniman Museum

The Horniman Museum and Gardens in the UK is doing important work related to coral reef regeneration. Thanks to Damian Carrington and the Guardian for bringing this to our attention:

New lab-bred super corals could help avert global reef wipeout

Pioneering research on cross-species coral hybrids, inoculations with protective bacteria and even genetic engineering could provide a lifeline for the ‘rainforests of the oceans’

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Coral reefs are globally important habitats

New super corals bred by scientists to resist global warming could be tested on the Great Barrier Reef within a year as part of a global research effort to accelerate evolution and save the “rainforests of the seas” from extinction.

Researchers are getting promising early results from cross-breeding different species of reef-building corals, rapidly developing new strains of the symbiotic algae that corals rely on and testing inoculations of protective bacteria. They are also mapping out the genomes of the algae to assess the potential for genetic engineering.

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Planulae held in the tentacles of Tubastrea coccinea prior to release

Innovation is also moving fast in the techniques need to create new corals and successfully deploy them on reefs. One breakthrough is the reproduction of the entire complex life cycle of spawning corals in a London aquarium, which is now being scaled up in Florida and could see corals planted off that coast by 2019.

“It is a story of hope, rather than saying ‘it’s all going to die and there’s nothing we can do about it’,” said Prof Madeleine van Oppen, from the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the University of Melbourne.

The researchers, who presented their cutting-edge work at a conference at the University of Oxford last week, acknowledge that such serious biological interventions on coral reefs could be seen as controversial or risky.

“But it is too late to leave them alone, given the pace at which we are losing corals,” said van Oppen, who said the broad aim is to speed up natural evolutionary processes. “I don’t have any problem with that. We have already intervened in the marine environment tremendously and there is no part where we cannot see human influence.”

Coral reefs are critical ecosystems in the oceans, hosting more than a million species and sustaining natural services worth $10tn a year, including providing vital food for 500 million people. But climate change is heating the oceans and causing corals to bleach: reefs could die out as early as 2050, with perhaps half already gone…

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