Magazine article USA TODAY

"Coral on a Chip" Cracks Mysteries

Magazine article USA TODAY

"Coral on a Chip" Cracks Mysteries

Article excerpt

We know that human-induced environmental changes are responsible for coral bleaching, disease, and infertility. Loss of the world's stony coral reefs--up to 30% in the next 30 years, according to some estimates--will mean toss of their services, including sequestering some 70,000,000 to 90,000,000 tons of carbon each year and supporting enormous marine biodiversity.

Yet, despite many advances, we still are far from understanding the causes and processes contributing to the corals' demise. Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel, have developed an experimental platform for studying coral biology at microscale resolutions, which already is providing new insights into this complex problem.

The tiny--often less than one millimeter in diameter--animals that build coral reefs create a thin layer of living tissue surrounding the calcium-based skeleton. These animals live in symbiosis with single-celled, photosynthetic algae that provide nutrients and oxygen in return for carbon dioxide and shelter. "In order to understand what happens during bleaching, when this symbiosis is broken, we need to understand what happens to these organisms at the cellular and molecular levels under various conditions," says Assaf Vardi, a researcher in the Plant and Environmental Sciences Department. …

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