Our objective is to use science-based knowledge to enhance coral survival, as a parallel strategy of coral conservation policies to save coral reefs.
At Carnegie Science's Department of Embryology, we are using newly constructed coral growth facilities to study fundamental questions of coral cell and developmental biology, such as how corals establish and maintain their symbiotic relationships, and how environmental stress affects coral health.
In a phenomenon called bleaching, ocean warming due to climate change is causing many coral hosts to lose their photosynthetic algal tenants—along with the nutrients that they provide. Without algae there to increase its food supply, the coral can die. This makes it critical to understand the symbiotic mechanism now, as coral communities are increasingly jeopardized.
Coral bleaching — before and after
We aim to decipher:
- Key factors that promote regeneration.
- Gene interactions between the coral and their symbionts that drive establishment, maintenance and termination of their kinship.
- Why do corals lose their symbiotic algae in the process called bleaching?
To achieve this aim, we are building on Carnegie’s long-standing tradition of model organism development, using cnidarian models like Aiptasia and the soft coral Xenia to reveal critical molecular insights into how corals interact and live with algae. We are also studying additional corals to uncover conserved pathways that regulate this process. These efforts will help us understand and mitigate coral bleaching.