Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Predicting the future of coral reefs in a changing world

Date:
June 6, 2013
Source:
Rutgers University
Summary:
Scientists have described for the first time the biological process of how corals create their skeletons, which form massive and ecologically vital coral reefs in the world's oceans. They identified specific proteins secreted by corals that precipitate carbonate to form the corals' characteristic skeleton.

This is a scanning electron microscope image of calcium carbonate crystals grown in artificial seawater containing individual coral acidic protein (CARP3). These crystals were formed both in pH 8.2 and 7.6. The reticulate structure of the crystal occurs due to the presence of organic material.
Credit: Tali Mass, Rutgers University

Rutgers scientists have described for the first time the biological process of how corals create their skeletons -- destined to become limestones -- which form massive and ecologically vital coral reefs in the world's oceans.

In a publication in Current Biology, Tali Mass and her colleagues at the Rutgers Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences show that specific proteins produced by corals can form limestones in test tubes. These proteins, secreted by corals, precipitate carbonate that forms the corals' characteristic skeleton.

"This is a first step toward understanding how coral build their skeleton," said Mass, a post-doctoral researcher and lead author of the study. The researchers also found that the reaction occurs regardless of water acidity, which suggests that these organisms will survive in coming centuries when the world's oceans are predicted to become more acidic. That also potentially bodes well for the health of the world's coral reefs, which support ecosystems essential to marine diversity that in turn support fisheries.

"The good news is that the change in acidity will not stop the function of these proteins," said Mass. But she is quick to warn that her work shouldn't make people complacent. "Pollution and rising water temperatures also pose major threats to these essential marine organisms."

Limestone rocks are all around us and have been central human history. The Egyptians used them to build pyramids and today they are still used to build monuments. Surprisingly, all limestones are created by living organisms. The rocks are everywhere, it seems, but how they form has not been answered until now.

Scientists have long known that corals made their external skeletons from a matrix of secreted proteins, but didn't understand the mechanism. Mass and her colleagues in Paul Falkowski's laboratory began by asking which proteins might be responsible for the process. They identified over 30 proteins from coral skeleton that could be involved. They described that work earlier this year in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

At the same time they searched for genes in the coral genome for proteins that could potentially assist with production of the skeletal mineral calcium carbonate. For this, the scientists went to Debashish Bhattacharya, professor of ecology, evolution and natural resources, director of the Rutgers Genome Cooperative, and a co-author of the paper. A genome is the entirety of an organism's genetic information (DNA) -- in this case, of the particular coral that the researchers were studying.

"We produced a 'draft' genome," Bhattacharya said. "Basically, that's a genome that is not yet fully assembled into chromosomes. So, you don't have the DNA puzzle completely put together, but you have all of the pieces of that puzzle and can figure out what the many pieces -- for example, the genes -- do in the coral."

The genome analysis, done by Ehud Zelzion, bioinformaticist at the Genome Cooperative, led the researchers to four particular proteins. The genes encoding these proteins were cloned and expressed in bacteria, then isolated and placed in solutions representing the current acidity of seawater and the more acidic levels scientists predict for the end of the century.

On the commonly used pH scale, where lower numbers are more acidic, today's seas are a moderately alkaline 8.2. But they are expected to creep toward 7.6 as carbon dioxide concentration increases in the air. Using a scanning electron microscope and other measurement devices, the scientists examined the proteins and found that all had begun to precipitate calcium carbonate crystals in the test tube at both pH levels.

"This work goes a long way toward explaining how corals precipitate calcium carbonate skeletons and clearly shows that the reaction can work at more acidic pH levels," said Falkowski, also a co-author of the study and Board of Governors Professor of geological and marine sciences. "It doesn't mean that ocean acidification is not a concern, but it does suggest that corals will still be able to form skeletons, and coral reefs will continue to exist."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Rutgers University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Tali Mass, Jeana L. Drake, Liti Haramaty, J. Dongun Kim, Ehud Zelzion, Debashish Bhattacharya, Paul G. Falkowski. Cloning and Characterization of Four Novel Coral Acid-Rich Proteins that Precipitate Carbonates In Vitro. Current Biology, 2013; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.05.007

Cite This Page:

Rutgers University. "Predicting the future of coral reefs in a changing world." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 June 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130606140622.htm>.
Rutgers University. (2013, June 6). Predicting the future of coral reefs in a changing world. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 3, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130606140622.htm
Rutgers University. "Predicting the future of coral reefs in a changing world." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130606140622.htm (accessed September 3, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Thousands of Fish Dead in Mexico Lake

Raw: Thousands of Fish Dead in Mexico Lake

AP (Sep. 2, 2014) — Over 53 tons of rotting fish have been removed from Lake Cajititlan in western Jalisco state. Authorities say that the thousands of fish did not die of natural causes. (Sep. 2) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Iceland Volcano Spewing Smoke

Raw: Iceland Volcano Spewing Smoke

AP (Sep. 2, 2014) — The alert warning for the area surrounding Iceland's Bardarbunga volcano was kept at orange on Tuesday, indicating increased unrest with greater potential for an eruption. Smoke is spewing from the volcano, and lava is spouting nearby. (Sept. 2) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
U.N. Says Ebola Travel Restrictions Will Cause Food Shortage

U.N. Says Ebola Travel Restrictions Will Cause Food Shortage

Newsy (Sep. 2, 2014) — The U.N. says the problem is two-fold — quarantine zones and travel restrictions are limiting the movement of both people and food. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Halliburton Reaches $1B Gulf Spill Settlement

Halliburton Reaches $1B Gulf Spill Settlement

AP (Sep. 2, 2014) — Halliburton's agreement to pay more than $1 billion to settle numerous claims involving the 2010 BP oil spill could be a way to diminish years of costly litigation. A federal judge still has to approve the settlement. (Sept. 2) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins