Symbiodinium: A microalgae to save our seas


Coral reefs are our most diverse marine habitat. They provide over US$30 billion to the world economy every year and directly support over 500 million people. However, they polluted with climate change impact models.


A team of researchers from the University of New South Wales, Australia, found a solution to reduce coral bleaching by genetically engineering the microalgae found in corals, enhancing their stress tolerance to ocean warming.

Symbiodinium, microalgae found in coral that are essential for coral reef health and, thereby, critical to ocean productivity. Symbiodinium photosynthesize to produce molecules that feed the corals, which is necessary corals to grow and form coral reefs.

Coral bleaching is caused by changes in ocean temperatures which harm Symbiodinium, leading corals to lose their symbiotic Symbiodinium and therefore starve to death. Different species of Symbiodinium have large genetic variation and diverse thermal tolerances which effect the bleaching tolerance of corals.

coral bleaching

In research, researchers use sequencing data from Symbiodinium to design genetic engineering strategies for enhancing stress tolerance of Symbiodinium, which reduce coral bleaching due to rising ocean temperatures.

Symbiodinium is very biologically unusual, which has made it incompatible with well-established genetic engineering methods. To overcome this roadblock researchers conducting novel genetic analyses of Symbiodinium to enable much needed research progress on the difficulties of studying these microalgae.

The researchers have now highlighted key Symbiodinium genes that prevents coral bleaching. Symbiodinium genetically enhanced to maintain their symbiosis with corals under rising ocean temperatures have great potential to reduce coral bleaching global.

However, researchers warn that this is not easy to cure. If lab experiments have successfully shown that genetically engineered Symbiodinium can prevent coral bleaching. These enhanced Symbiodinium would not immediately released onto coral reefs. Extensive, rigorous studies evaluating any potential negative impacts would be absolutely necessary before any field-based trials on this technology begin.

More information: [Frontiers]