Scientists have discovered the first molecular evidence that corals and anemones can optimize their gene expression when exposed to environmental stress, enabling them to acclimatize to extreme conditions such as those experienced during climate change.
“In a nutshell, we could train toughened corals in nurseries to improve their thermal resilience, helping them to better cope with rising sea temperatures before out planting them in the reefs,” Says Dr. Manuel Aranda, lead author and assistant professor of marine science in the Red Sea Research Center at King Abdullah’s University of Science and Technology (KAUST).
“Genetic adaptation is a slow process, because it requires beneficial mutations to spread through the population, which takes quite some time in organisms like corals with long generation times. Our findings are important because epigenetic mechanisms present a potentially fast way to increase the survivability of corals in light of the current speed at which climate change progresses,” Dr. Aranda says.
This research could have a huge impact on the conservation of economically valuable reef formations upon which countless marine organisms rely for habitat. By studying how tiny sea anemones use epigenetic mechanisms to regulate the expression of genes involved in their symbiosis with photosynthetic algae, the researchers have found these mechanisms may help corals and anemones acclimatize to environmental stress, and believe this could be harnessed to improve their resilience to the challenges posed by climate change.