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Scientists have reproduced Atlantic coral in a laboratory for the first time

By Alain – on in News, Biology

In the Atlantic Ocean near Florida and the Caribbean, the column coral reef (Dendrogyra cylindricus, of its scientific name) has been threatened with extinction for some time due to global warming, but not only. Other dangers include pollution and the Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease, which has been spreading in the region since 2014.

To counter this inevitable disaster, American scientists from the Florida Aquarium Laboratory in Apollo Beach tried to reproduce in the laboratory the threatened coral type and good news: they succeeded!

It was biologist Keri O’Neill and her team who, inspired by techniques developed by British scientists who had achieved the same feat with 18 species of Pacific corals, successfully carried out this reproduction.

A success that could change everything

As Amber Whittle, aquarium conservation manager, says, “This incredible breakthrough is the first time we have laid Atlantic coral in the laboratory and had had it under glass for a year.” This incredible breakthrough, to use her own words, could only be the beginning.

Indeed, thanks to their new expertise, scientists may be able to create new coral colonies outright. In doing so, it is not impossible that they may be able to play God and replenish Florida’s reef system. “This is really the future of coral restoration in Florida and around the world,” says Keri O’Neill. “We can do this for dozens of species, and it will open a world of new possibilities.”
It is important to mention that new corals created in the laboratory are created with new genetic characteristics, making them more resistant.

What exactly is a coral?

To the great surprise of many, a coral is in fact an invertebrate animal, not a plant, which is considered to be a superorganism since they generally live in colonies of individuals. It secretes a skeleton formed of limestone, and the accumulation of these skeletons is what forms the reefs.

How does coral reproduce in the lab?

In order to reproduce, a coral must be encouraged to release its eggs and sperm into an aquarium, which is not an easy task. This requires careful control of the artificial habitat so that it resembles its natural oceanic habitat in every way, which involves regulating the water temperature according to the season and modifying the lighting to enhance the sunrise and sunset, but also the moon’s rays. This is an essential part of the process since the coral needs these biological signals to predict its spawning.

A long process

Coral breeding research, in collaboration with London, began in 2017, when the coral disease was on the rise and the remaining male and female corals were becoming too sparse to breed. A law to protect corals once prevented scientists from collecting them, but given the increased threat, the law was amended so that scientists could collect more coral fragments to study them in the laboratory.

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Alain

Alain obtained a bachelor's degree in atmospheric science before taking a certificate in communication. Although this excellent popularizer could have been found on television commenting on weather changes, he feels most comfortable behind a computer screen. He particularly likes to inform people about the climate crisis.