An international team of Australian and Israeli researchers has discovered what could be the aphrodisiac for the biggest moonlight sex event on Earth.
An ancient light-sensitive gene has been isolated by researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS) that appears to act as a trigger for the annual mass spawning of corals across a third of a million square kilometres of Australias Great Barrier Reef, shortly after a full moon.
The genes, known as a cryptochromes, occur in corals, insects, fish and mammals - including humans - and are primitive light-sensing pigment mechanisms which predate the evolution of eyes.
In a new paper published in the international journal Science today, the team, headed by Marie Curie Scholar Dr Oren Levy of CoECRS and the University of Queensland, reports its discovery that the Cry2 gene, stimulated by the faint blue light of the full moon, appears to play a central role in triggering the mass coral spawning event, one of natures wonders.
Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, who leads the University of Queensland laboratory in which the genes were discovered, said This is the key to one of the central mysteries of coral reefs. We have always wondered how corals without eyes can detect moonlight and get the precise hour of the right couple of days each year to spawn.
What allows corals to spawn simultaneously along the immense length of the Great Barrier Reef - and also in other parts of the world - has been a scientific mystery till now, though researchers knew that tide, water temperature and weather conditions played a part, says Dr Levy. However the remarkable synchronisation of spawning occurring all along the Reef immediately following a full moon suggested that moonlight was a key factor.
Exposing corals to different colours and intensities of light and sampling live corals on reefs around the time of the full moon, Dr Levy found the Cry2 gene at its most active in Acropora cora
|Contact: Dr. Bill Leggat|
ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies