Paradoxically, the team's research identified molecular signals both promoting and discouraging programmed cell-death in the corals.
This has led them to a theory that corals respond to the stresses caused by warming sea water by killing off some of the cells, while strengthening others in order to stage a possible recovery after the hot water has moved off the reef and conditions have returned to normal.
"This would explain why some corals are able to recover quite quickly from a bleaching event, if it has not gone too far.
"It is far too early to speculate, but understanding the recovery process for any living organism is always a big help, as human medicine has constantly demonstrated, Dr Ainsworth says.
"The next step in our research will be to see how we can use this new insight into the processes of coral bleaching to understand their recovery mechanisms. We also need to know more about how this process works at lower temperatures, or under varying temperatures.
"That in turn will lead us to explore ways that coral reef managers and users can perhaps minimise other stresses on the reef in order to give it the best possible chance of recovery from bleaching."
However the team cautions that "further study of the tissue function and cellular differentiation and recovery processes in coral is needed before this complicated cell death system can be fully understood".
|Contact: Tracy Ainsworth|
ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies