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Study identifies molecules used by certain species of seaweed to harm corals
Date:10/17/2011

earchers followed up their initial study by investigating interactions between eight different species of seaweed and three species of coral growing in the waters off the Fiji Islands. In 79 percent of the interactions studied, the seaweed chemicals harmed the coral.

"Though some corals were more resistant than others, what we have shown is that these seaweeds are generally bad for corals," said Hay, who has been studying coral reefs for more than 30 years. "At some level, these seaweed molecules can definitely kill the corals. But at other levels, what they are probably doing is cutting off the options for reefs to recover by making these reefs unreceptive to newly-arriving coral larvae. It is difficult for juvenile corals to colonize and grow through a chemically-toxic layer of seaweed."

In the 2010 study, the researchers determined that seaweed harmed coral only when their surfaces touched. That meant the harmful compounds were likely hydrophobic chemicals that dissolved in oil rather than water.

To identify the specific harmful compounds, the researchers produced extracts from the surfaces of the two most harmful seaweeds. Using a technique called bioassay-guided fractionation, they divided up compounds in these seaweed extracts by the degree to which they could be dissolved in oils versus water, or by their size.

They then placed gels containing the extracted compounds into contact with the most sensitive coral, Acropora. The coral samples had been placed into metal racks located on healthy coral reefs near Votua Village in the Fiji Islands. Similar gels not containing the extracts were used as controls and produced no effect on the coral.

By studying the effects of the extracts on the coral with a pulse-amplitude-modulated fluorometer to assess changes in coral photosynthesis, the researchers narrowed the list of suspect molecules. From the two most chemically-damaging seaweed species, the r
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Contact: John Toon
jtoon@gatech.edu
404-894-6986
Georgia Institute of Technology Research News
Source:Eurekalert  

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