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How corals fight back
Date:8/18/2010

Australian researchers are a step closer to understanding the rapid decline of our coral reefs, thanks to a breakthrough study linking coral immunity with its susceptibility to bleaching and disease.

The discovery was made by Caroline Palmer, Bette Willis and John Bythell, scientists from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University (Queensland) and Newcastle University (UK).

"Understanding the immune system of reef-building corals will help to reduce the impact of coral diseases and environmental stresses," says Caroline Palmer, lead author of the publication. "Potentially, this will enable us to more accurately predict the vulnerability of coral reefs to disease and bleaching, before there are obvious signs of stress."

"This unique study broadens the limited knowledge we have about the defence systems of corals, which is one of the main challenges facing scientists aiming to protect corals" says Professor Bette Willis, a chief investigator in the ARC CoE for Coral Reef Studies. "Identifying and measuring the immune functions of several different corals allows us to predict which ones are particularly susceptible to stress."

"Variation in levels of immune function among different species is likely dependent on the energy they assign to it. As energy is vital for an effective immune response, corals that utilise energy to grow and reproduce rapidly have less to spare for their immune response," says Caroline Palmer. "These corals, like the staghorns, Acropora, are the colonies most vulnerable when challenged by temperature stress or disease."

A key element of the coral immune system is melanin production. Melanin, a classic part of immune responses found in invertebrates, also provides a defence against disease-causing organisms in corals. It may also be used to stop harmful UV light from reaching the symbiotic algae and causing bleaching.

The study of co
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Contact: Bette Willis
Bette.Willis@jcu.edu.au
61-747-815-349
ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies
Source:Eurekalert

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