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Current Affairs

Microbes that will keep coral reefs healthy

Date: 11 January 2021 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

Researchers have identified microbes living within the biofilms of some coral species that may help protect the coral against certain nutrient imbalances.

 

Background

Corals are sensitive organisms. Any change in temperature, pressure, salinity or nutrients can affect its health negatively.

 

Details

  • The team found that microbes can take up and “scrub out” nitrogen from a coral’s surroundings.

  • At low concentrations, nitrogen can be an essential nutrient for corals, providing energy for them to grow. But an overabundance of nitrogen can trigger mats of algae to bloom.

  • The algae can outcompete coral for resources, leaving the reefs stressed and bleached of colour.

  • By taking up excess nitrogen, the newly identified microbes may prevent algal competition, thereby serving as tiny protectors of the coral they inhabit.

  • While corals around the world are experiencing widespread stress and bleaching from global warming, it seems that some species have found ways to protect themselves from other, nitrogen-related sources of stress.

  • Whether nitrogen-scrubbing microbes directly contribute to a coral’s health is still unclear. The team’s results are the first evidence of such a connection. 

  • Researchers plan to study to what extent the bacteria help corals to adapt against increasing concentration of dissolved nitrogen.

Significance of coral system

  • Many drugs are now being developed from coral reef animals and plants as possible cures for cancer, arthritis, human bacterial infections, viruses, and other diseases.

  • Healthy coral reefs support commercial and subsistence fisheries as well as jobs and businesses through tourism and recreation.

  • Coral reef structures also buffer shorelines against 97 percent of the energy from waves, storms, and floods, helping to prevent loss of life, property damage, and erosion.

  • Coral reefs support more species per unit area than any other marine environment. They support large biodiversity.