New research shows algae-coral relationship

New research from the University of Queensland is promising to further our understanding of the relationship between coral and the algae living inside it, which could better inform ways of preventing mass bleaching.

UQ’s Dr Cheong Xin Chan said that better understanding of the symbiotic relationship could lead to a breakthrough in the field.

“Little is known about the molecular mechanisms underlying their symbiotic relationship — how can we understand the break-up if we don’t understand the relationship in the first place?” Dr Chan said.

Dr Chan’s team is using genomic data to look for genes that enhance resilience in the algae and help coral adapt to the environmental shifts created by climate change.

The algae that live within coral are dinoflagellates, a type of phytoplankton – tiny photosynthetic organisms that manufacture their own food harvesting energy from sunlight.

“This algae family is very diverse,” Dr Chan said.

“Some are toxic, causing the harmful algal blooms known as ‘red tides’, while others provide bioluminescence or grow in sea ice, and many are free-living.”

IMB researcher Raul González-Pech said the algal genome is about half the size of the human genome.

“Nothing is straightforward with these algae as they have some of the weirdest genomes we’ve ever seen,” he said.

“In a human cell, the DNA is organised into 23 pairs of chromosomes but the DNA of these algal cells is so tightly packed that we still don’t know exactly how many chromosomes they have.”

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