A research team led by the Australian Institute of Marine Science in collaboration with Penn State University and the Aix-Marseille University reported a new genetic discovery that may be the key to climate change damaged coral survival in the open access journal BMC Genetics on Feb. 21, 2013.
The scientists studied DNA variations called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) across populations of reef corals found at a range of temperatures and water clarity along the Great Barrier Reef. SNPs are a natural and normal evolutionary adaptation.
The researcher found that some SNPs that correlated to water clarity and water temperature preferred by cauliflower coral were found in genes involved in providing immune response, and regulating stress induced cell death. SNPs in genes involved in detoxification, immune response, and defense against reactive oxygen damage were found to be associated with temperature or to water clarity in staghorn coral.
The key to future climate change damaged reef recovery could be as simple as breeding resistant or tolerant coral species that have the proper SNP combinations in laboratories and seeding endangered reefs with the resistant lab grown coral.