The CRISPR can one day help conservationists to save our ocean’s coral: The oceans are under attack and all signs point toward humans as the perpetrators. Sea temperatures are rising, fish populations are dwindling, and coral reefs are experiencing an unprecedented die-off called bleaching.
The CRISPR can one day help conservationists to save our ocean’s coral.
For most accounts, the future for plants and animals on Earth looks pretty grim.
One could argue that rampant advances in technology are what got us here in the first place. But, in a similar vein, technological progress may be the planet’s last hope for survival.
In a recent study by an international team of the researchers, scientists for the first time demonstrating that the ground-breaking gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 can successfully use on coral.
The breakthrough paths the way for CRISPR to potentially offer a boost for conservationists trying to save these ancient animals.
Corals are facing unprecedented declines due to climate change, motivating researchers to understand the molecular basis of their thermal tolerance.
how they complete their life cycle, and interactions with algae that live inside them, Phillip Cleves, a Stanford geneticist who co-led the research, tells Digital Trends.
“Our ability to understand how specific genes contribute to these traits in corals is held back by the lack of methods to test how a particular gene functions in corals.”
By using CRISPR, a fast and precise gene-editing tool considered a resolution in biology, Cleves and his colleagues hope to make specific edits to the coral genomes, to study how individual genes function and why coral is so sensitive to changes in the environment.
But there was a problem. Coral are selective breeders, releasing gametes eggs and sperm once a year by water temperature and moon cycles.
We want to introduce CRISPR into newly fertilised coral eggs, so we need to be there right when they are spawning.
Marie Strader, a marine biologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara who co-led the research, says.
Because of limited access to gametes, the timing in which to perform these experiments was limiting.
Luckily, Dr Line Bay co-author of the paper and others at the Australian Institute of Marine Science have decades of experience on when and where corals will spawn.
After travelling to Australia, the researchers used CRISPR to knock out a select few genes.
Their breakthrough came when they are successfully editing a gene that is thought to help to regulate new coral colonisation.
The researchers admit that this is a small step down a long road, and they insist they are not trying to create a species of super coral.
Preferably, their goal is to understand coral biology better and, through that understanding, help these organisms survive the environmental trials that lay ahead.
We intending this paper to serve as a simple blueprint for how researchers can use this technology to study the functions of coral genes,” Strader says.
We are currently conducting experiments investigating how specific genes are regulating the coral skeletal formation, or calcification, for example.
However, we expect this technique can use to identify genes involving in many other ecologically important traits such as thermal tolerance or coral bleaching.
There are so many open questions about which genes help corals thrive in these vibrant and changing ecosystems, she adds. It is a fascinating time to do this type of work.
A paper detailing the research this was published this week in the journal Processing of the National Academy of Sciences.
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