According to an article by ScienceDaily, the Nobel Prize-winning genome editing system known as CRISPR has been used by researchers to better understand how corals respond to climate change.

Findings published by the team from Carnegie's Department of Embryology, led by Phillip Cleves, suggests that the revolutionary CRISPR technology could be invaluable in coral reef conservation efforts. In 2018, Cleves and his team used CRISPR/Cas9 to identify a protein called Heat Shock Factor 1 (HSF1) from a glass anemone. This protein activates many genes responsible for regulating the anemone’s response to heat. 

CRISPR helps uncover how corals cope with warming oceans
CRISPR helps uncover how corals cope with warming oceans

Now, a different team led by Cleves, has used the same technology to mutate the gene that encodes HSF1 in staghorn coral. The team found that without a functioning HSF1 protein, the staghorn had a very low tolerance to heat stress and rapidly died if the water temperature increased. 

Cleves said, "Our work further demonstrates how CRISPR/Cas9 can be used to elucidate aspects of coral physiology that can be used to guide conservation. This time we focused on one particular heat tolerance gene, but there are so many more mechanisms to reveal in order to truly understand coral biology and apply this knowledge to protecting these important communities."

"Understanding the genetic traits of heat tolerance of corals holds the key to understanding not only how corals will respond to climate change naturally but also balancing the benefits, opportunities and risks of novel management tools,"- Line Bay, the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and member of Cleaves’ most recent team.

You may also be interested by