Scientists Could Save Corals If They Focus On Strengthening Their Immune System


Pollution and rising temperature of the waters have been killing many coral reefs in the world. Scientists have tried to find ways to solve this crisis. A researcher has a different approach, but it might prove to be effective: let’s find out what makes corals healthy instead of looking into what makes them sick.

Until now, researchers believed that only by fighting climate change or cleaning up the ocean we could save the coral reefs. And although it’s always best to do something and clean the mess, there is also room for improvement. A paper published in the journal Nature shows that scientists can help reefs get stronger and become immune to pollution.

Improving Coral Reefs’ Immune System – A Way to Keep Them Alive

Caroline Palmer is a visiting research fellow at the University of Plymouth and author of the paper. She explains her theory:

“If we are to conserve or restore [the reefs], we need to understand coral health — what drives tolerance and how can we promote it. If you have a strong immune system, and the energy to support it, you are more likely to be healthy and to survive adverse conditions.”

For decades, scientists have focused on the causes that led to coral bleaching, but they considered it to be distinct from immunity. Dr. Palmer thinks otherwise: coral bleaching is part of coral holobiont immunity.

Palmer is also the lead scientist on the ‘Seeking Survivors’ project which examines coral health in Costa Rica. She has been studying the immune system of corals for the last ten years. Her findings show that corals with a higher immune system had a lower risk of being bleached or die.

She proposed an immunological model to increase the tolerance of corals to harsh conditions so that corals can adapt to new extreme conditions.

Dr. Palmer explains that:

“Coral biologists are racing to conserve coral reefs before it’s too late. There is currently a lot of interest in creating more tolerant corals through genetic engineering and of restoring reefs by targeting more resilient corals.”

She concludes that although she supports these approaches, she thinks it’s best they first understand “what drives coral health” so that they can succeed in keeping reefs alive.


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