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January 27, 2013

Corals Beat the Heat

CORALS BEAT HEAT BY BEING PREPARED: Once waters begin to warm, a study finds, it's too late to adapt. Corals that can survive in warming ocean water may be genetically primed to sweat it out.

BEATING THE HEAT: Some forms of Acropora hyacinthus
coral preempt the effects of warming waters by turning on genes that help them
resist heat and stress.


Studying reef-building Acropora hyacinthus corals from American Samoa's Ofu Island, researchers from the Stanford University Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove, California, found that the activity of hundreds of genes changed when both heat-sensitive and heat-tolerant corals were switched from 29.2°C water to 32.9°C water. But even before getting into hot water, heat-tolerant corals had already turned on 60 genes designed to help combat heat and stress, the researchers report online January 7th in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Sensitive corals that bleach in the heat didn't turn on those heat- and stress-beaters until after temperatures rose. It's not clear if the heat-tolerant corals face long-term consequences from their constant vigilance against environmental stress. The finding may help researchers better predict how future climate change may affect coral populations. D. J. Barshis et al. Genomic basis for coral resilience to climate change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Published online January 7, 2013. www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1210224110. Science News, 09 February 2013, p. 16.


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