RSS Coral “toolkit” discovered, tells corals when to “build” skeletons

MASA Admin

8 May 2007
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When coral release larvae, they don’t yet have that reef-building skeletal structure and at some point, they know when its time to settle down and start building. Researchers at the University of Hawaii at Monoa, Rutgers University and the University of Haifa have just identified the key components of this molecular “toolkit” that allows the coral larvae to build its skeleton.

Juvenile lace coral with tissue and algal symbionts (brown dots) covering skeleton. Credit: H Putnam.

Called biomineralization, the triggers for the process was outlined in a study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The team studied Pocillopora damicornis, or lace coral, in the reefs of Kaneohe Bay.

“Our research on reproduction in the lace coral, Pocillopora damicornis, provided the perfect opportunity to look at a natural on-off switch in coral biomineralization,” said co-lead author Hollie Putnam, Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB) assistant researcher.

The swimming coral larvae change shape, settle onto the reef, and start to build their skeletons. The research teams took a closer look at the process by examining gene expression and the production of proteins at these different life stages.

Single swimming larva comprised of coral tissue containing algal symbionts. Credit: H Putnam.

“Together, we described components that were ‘off’ or ‘on’ before and after the first skeletal structures were built,” said Putnam. “This approach revealed the quantity and location of important components of the biomineralization machinery, knowledge that allows them to be developed as biomarkers for studies of coral growth in the future.”

The team is currently working to further describe these novel components of the biomineralization machine in corals and how they are regulated under increased environmental stress.

[via Science Daily and UHM]
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