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Coral study reveals surprising twist

A new study puts a surprising twist -- one might even say a double spiral -- into our understanding of how corals react to ocean warming and acidification. It also offers the possibility of an early warning system for the warmth-induced bleaching events that are increasingly harming coral reefs worldwide. Previous studies of coral bleaching have been hobbled by the technical difficulties of telling whether the genetic snippets used to gauge changes in gene expression were from coral animals or their algal symbionts. To the researchers' surprise, they found that environmental stress alters gene expression most noticeably in algae. The team's surprise discovery has important implications for understanding, monitoring and protecting coral reefs threatened by bleaching. Shown here: Two larvae of Pocillopora damicornis, the coral species that the researchers used in their experiments. The brown "ribbons" are the algal symbionts, which enter the larvae before they are released from the adult corals.

Visit Website | Image credit: E. Rivest/Virginia Institute of Marine Science