Over the past two years, the Great Barrier Reef has lost 50 percent of all coral. The 2016-2017 catastrophe was only the last in a series of three global coral bleaching events that decimated the reefs since the 1980s, resulting in the destruction of 27 percent of the world's reefs. As conservationists strive to find innovative ways to combat the effects of widespread coral bleaching, a new approach to genetics could emerge.
Stanford Medicine has announced a project to explore the future potential of gene editing so that one day the dying coral can be salvaged. The idea behind this project is to understand "which genes are crucial for coral biology," explains Stanford Geneticist Phillip Cleves.
"What we really want to do is find out the basic mechanisms of how corals work and use to inform conservation efforts in the future."
Kleve has already conducted a proof-of-principle study, which was presented yesterday in the Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in which he successfully modified coral genes using the CRISPR (1
"Until now, there was no way to ask if a gene whose expression was present coral survival, actually plays a causal role, "said Cleves.
There & # 39; There is no method of modifying genes in corals and then asking what the consequences are, "he emphasized.
And this is exactly what Kleve tries to achieve, saying that he considers his study an" early draft "for the Consider type of work that can be done in the future to give coral a helping hand.
For now, the geneticist is trying to find out if the coral The genome contains genes that can help these animals to set up new colonies or them perhaps more resilient to the rising sea temperatures.
Using CRISPR corals edit https://t.co/6fK4aQ5iEz #digitalhealth
– #DigitalHealth (@BitHealth) April 24, 2018
His study focused on Acropora millepora corals, in which he successfully engineered three types of genes: red fluorescent protein, green fluorescent protein, and fibroblast growth factor r 1a.
After Stanford Medicine Cleve's team pinched the genes to turn them off and see what would happen. In the case of the first two genes, this proved tricky, since both genes have multiple copies in the genome, so shutting down a copy to keep it from glowing also does not disrupt its replicates.
Although we are not sure whether we could detect a persuasive loss of fluorescence, DNA sequencing showed us that we could molecularly target both the red and green fluorescent protein molecules, "said Cleves in a press release.
Im Case of The third gene that scientists believe would regulate coral coronation and there is only one copy in the genome CRISPR-Cas9 produced mutations in the coral embryos, proving that the gene editing tool can modify the individual coral genes.
However, using CRISPR-Cas9 on corals was not without its potential, because the procedure requires a fertilized egg (or zygote), and coral spawning occurs only once or twice a year and is triggered only by the rise of a full moon. Cleves had to carefully time the Zygote collection process by taking the help of researchers de s Australian Institute of Marine Science, who accompanied him throughout the process.
In the future, Cleves hopes that geneticists will one day use the CRISPR-Cas9 tool to target genes that are potentially involved in bleaching – a process which occurs at sea surface temperatures and in which corals emit the algae that live in their tissues and whiten completely.
Other genes that could be investigated in the future include those that regulate skeletal growth or the symbiotic relationship of corals with algae.
This is a moment when everything is on the deck, "Kleves said.
" When we can begin to classify which genes are important, we can get an idea of what we can do to to help nature conservation or just predict what will happen in the future. And I think that makes it a really exciting time to be a fundamental biologist involved in coral genetics, "he said.