Charles Darwin, the British naturalist who defended the theory of evolution, noted that corals form large-scale structures, largely made of limestone, that surround tropical islands. He didn’t know how they had achieved this feat.
Now Rutgers scientists have shown that coral structures are made of a biomineral that contains a highly organized organic mixture of proteins that looks like what’s in our bones. Their study, published in the Royal Society Interface Journal, shows for the first time that multiple proteins are spatially organized – a process essential to forming a rock-hard coral skeleton.
“Our research revealed a complex network of skeletal proteins that interact in space, which probably applies to all stony corals,” said Manjula P. Mummadisetti, who led the research while she was an associate postdoctoral fellow. at the Rutgers Environmental Biophysics and Molecular Ecology Laboratory headed by senior author Paul G. Falkowski. She is now a senior scientist at AVMBioMed in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. “It is important to understand the mechanisms of coral biomineralization and how these precious animals persist in the era of anthropogenic climate change.”
“Our results suggest that corals will resist climate change caused by human activities, based on the precision, robustness and resilience of their impressive process of forming rock-hard skeletons,” said Falkowski, professor. emeritus at the School of Arts and Sciences and School. of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.
Coral reefs protect shorelines threatened by erosion and storms and provide fish habitat, nursery and spawning grounds. Indeed, coral reefs provide food to around half a billion people, who also depend on them for a living. However, warming ocean waters due to climate change exposes corals to deadly bleaching and disease. More acidic ocean waters, rising sea levels, unsustainable fishing, ships damaging reefs, invasive species, marine debris and tropical cyclones pose additional threats, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration .
Rutgers scientists studied the spatial interactions of proteins embedded in the backbone of Stylophora pistillata, a stony coral common in the Indo-Pacific. Stony corals have evolved over more than 400 million years, forming huge reefs in shallow subtropical and tropical seas. They have been called the “tropical forests of the sea”.
Predicting the survival of corals based on their adaptation to global climate change over millions of years requires understanding, among other things, how they build reefs by secreting calcium carbonate. This process is called biomineralization.
Scientists have shown that several proteins work together to create optimal conditions for biomineralization. These proteins are not located at random but are well organized spatially, which scientists have detailed for the first time. Scientists have revealed the spatial patterns as new minerals form between the animal’s living tissue and its base or an older skeleton.
Jeana Drake, who earned a doctorate from Rutgers and co-authored the study, is now at the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Haifa.
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