We all know the brightly colored dressed superhero that comes to rescue anyone in need of protection. Even though these Superheros are mostly fictional, scientists just found out that a disease-resistant coral can protect other coral that are more vulnerable to disease. Lets call it Superhero Coral, if only for the sake of our headline pun. The University of California Davis monitored a disease outbreak at a coral nursery in the Caymen Islands. The genetic markup of the coral plays an important part in fighting disease. According to the study that was just published in the journal Scientific Reports, when people grow corals of the same genotype, they are more vulnerable to disease in comparison of coral that grow among a coral of other genotypes. They saw best results when coral that was especially resistant grew in the mix. That observation makes logic sense when compared with other monoculture environments like traditional Banana farming. During the early part of the 20th century most banana plantations with the popular Gros Michel variety were all but wiped out by a fungus that decimated the mono-cultures. Only in highly isolated places of the diverse rain forest do we find surviving species of the type. By now, almost all commercial Banana production had been replaced by more resilient Cavendish type. Monocultures of susceptible species are especially vulnerable to disease and parasites the bigger they are.
The lead author of the study Anya Brown asserts that proximity to the resistant genotypes play a role in buffering the effect of the disease. So the resistant coral and its placement can play a large role in coral farming and reef restoration projects. The coral nursery in the nonprofit Central Caribbean Marine Institute observed an outbreak of white band disease and the monitoring of the progress showed that coral fragments of the same specimen that were grouped together fared worse than setups where fragments from different mother coral were grouped together. The Caribbean Staghorn coral was much better equipped to fight the bacterial disease when fragments with a mixtures of different genomes were placed in proximity to each other. The researchers explain the effect by comparison to the process of vaccination that can affect the spread of disease in human populations. Vaccinated individuals prevent the spread of disease and slow the transmission rates down. In some sense the less affected coral creates a barrier and protect otherwise more vulnerable specimen.
Researchers hope that the study will help to assist coral nurseries and reef restoration projects and to arm them with strategies that will built more resilient reef ecosystems. We at the Bali coral farm see this as a worthwhile approach to optimize our success. We will follow this research closely and will consider it in our own contribution of the many reef restoration projects we take part in. Maybe we will be able to grow our own brand of superhero coral in the future. We know one thing. It most likely will come in a very colorful outfit.