• Wed. Feb 21st, 2024

How does CRISPR/Cas9 help in coral conservation and restoration?

How does CRISPR/Cas9 help in coral conservation and restoration?

Driven by recent research CarnegiePhilip Cleaves uses advanced CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing tools to uncover a gene essential to stony corals’ ability to build reef architecture.

Philip Cleaves works at Carnegie’s Coral Research Center in Baltimore. Carnegie researchers lead efforts to apply biomedical technologies to environmental problems including coral bleaching and ocean acidification. Image credit: Navid Marvi courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science

The study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Stony corals, marine invertebrates, build large skeletons. These massive skeletons form the basis of reef ecosystems. A quarter of all known marine species live in these biodiversity hotspots.

Coral reefs have great ecological value. But they are decreasing due to human activity. The carbon pollution we spew into the air warms the oceans – causes deadly bleaching events – alters ocean water chemistry – causes ocean acidification, which disrupts reef growth..

Philip Cleaves, Carnegie Institution for Science

The ocean absorbs excess carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels. It mixes with water and forms an acid that destroys coral, shellfish and other marine life.

Stony corals are vulnerable to ocean acidification because they build skeletons through the accumulation of calcium carbonate, known as calcification, which becomes more difficult as the pH of the surrounding water drops. Because of the importance of coral skeleton development, understanding the genes that drive this process and how it evolved in corals is an important research focus.

Cleaves’ lab has been using Nobel Prize-winning CRISPR/Cas9 technology for years to discover cellular and molecular pathways that help guide coral reef conservation and rehabilitation initiatives. They previously identified a gene critical to how corals respond to heat stress, which could help predict how corals will adapt to future bleaching events.

The Cleaves group, which included Carnegie’s Amanda Tinoco, used genome-editing tools to identify that a specific gene called SLC4γ is essential for young coral colonies to develop their skeletons. It encodes a protein that transports bicarbonate across cellular membranes. Notably, SLC4γ is only found in stony corals, but not in their non-skeletal relatives. These findings suggest that stony corals evolved skeletal development using a novel gene, SLC4γ.

By applying sophisticated molecular biology techniques to ecological problems, we can reveal the genes that determine ecologically important traits. Developing these genetic tools to study coral biology can greatly improve our understanding of their biology and help guide successful conservation efforts for these vulnerable communities..

Philip Cleaves, Carnegie Institution for Science

Cleaves was named earlier this year by the Pew Charitable Trusts as one of seven recipients of the 2023 Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation and the organization’s inaugural Marine and Biomedical Science Fellowship. The initiative funds studies that utilize approaches or technologies more often seen in biomedical science to improve ocean conservation.

Carnegie’s Lorna Mitchison-Field and Jacob Bradford, Queensland University of Technology’s Dimitri Perrin, Stanford University’s Christian Rennick and John Pringle, and Australian Institute of Marine Science’s Line Bay contributed to the research.

Research was supported by the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Startup Funds, an International Macquarie University Research Excellence Scholarship, an Australian Institute for Marine Science Internal Grant, an NSF-IOS EDGE grant, and a Simons Foundation grant.

Journal Ref

Tinoco, AI, etc. (2023) Role of the bicarbonate transporter SLC4γ in stony-coral skeleton formation and evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2216144120.

Source: https://carnegiescience.edu

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