Coral reefs beneath the oceans around the world are dying off at an alarming rate. It is a dire situation that has alarmed marine biologists because they understand the complex role these formations play in the overall health of undersea ecosystems.
Among the most significant causes is the warming of the oceans brought on by climate change. The acid content of the oceans is also rising. Coal mining, pollution, over-fishing, blast fishing, and the digging of canals are also contributing to the devastation of coral reefs.
Gene Editing, the Best Way to Save Coral Species?
The urgency to get a handle on the problem has led scientists to adopt a new method of understanding what coral species need to survive. They’re looking to genetics, or more specifically, into the possibility of employing genome editing as a way of bolstering the defense of coral organisms.
A technology called CRISPR is a way to do just that. CRISPR is the acronym of Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. This makes it possible for genetic material to be added, removed, or edited within the genome of any organism.
By using CRISPR, it may be possible, someday, to “edit” the DNA of coral species to make them adapted to warmer waters with higher acid content. But before scientists can use this gene-editing tool to save coral species, they will have to learn a lot more about the DNA and RNA of corals. This is still not very well-understood today.
What makes this even more hard to recreate is the exotic coral reproduction system. Corals breed only during specific times of the year. They do this by using a method called “broadcast spawning.” This involves the release of eggs and sperm into moving water columns. Its goal is to get them to randomly connect with each other.
The good news is that preliminary tests using the gene-editing tool have shown that scientists could create a modified coral species with superior survival skills. Still, this it’s just a first step in the complex challenge that lies ahead.
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