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

esearchers isolated and identified four toxic molecules for detailed chemical analysis. Those compounds, identified as acetylated diterpenes and loliolide derivatives, are from a class of organic compounds known as terpenes.

The four molecules two from a green alga known as Chlorodesmis fastigiata and two from a red alga known as Galaxaura filamentosa were brought back to Georgia Tech for further study. They were analyzed by Julia Kubanek, a professor with joint appointments in the School of Biology and the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and by graduate student Paige Stout. Kubanek and Stout, who were also involved in a related project aimed at discovering potential drug compounds on the coral reefs, mapped the structures of the toxic molecules.

For the future, the researchers hope to learn more about the compounds and how they evolved in seaweed. Contact between seaweed and coral would have been limited on pristine reefs, so Hay and Rasher believe the molecules may have evolved as part of defense against microbes or herbivorous fish. They also want to identify the species of fish that consume the seaweeds.

"We hope that this information will inform the Fijians to help them make decisions about fisheries management that could help protect the reefs," said Rasher. "We hope to give them scientifically-guided management tools for maintaining healthy reefs, or for restoring degraded reefs suffering from local human disturbance."

Coral is impacted by both global and local stressors. The global problems, including changing ocean pH and rising temperatures, can't be controlled locally. But issues such as overfishing and pollution can be controlled, and easing those local stresses may help the coral survive the global challenges.

"It's becoming clear that the problem for coral is not just one factor," said Rasher. "The decline of coral reefs results from a complex interaction between many factors. Our study sho
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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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