Scientific Sleuths Pinpoint Natural Coral Killers Using Genetic Fingerprinting
By Marla Lise | Featured Research
November 28, 2011
Coral researchers and reef managers will now have an easier job in identifying the specific diseases causing coral infections by a method called genetic fingerprinting.
AsianScientist (Nov. 28, 2011) – Coral researchers and reef managers will now have an easier job in identifying the specific diseases causing coral infections by a method called genetic fingerprinting.
Currently, scientists classify coral diseases mostly based on a description of how the coral has deteriorated, such as the pattern of tissue loss and abnormal colors.
“This is an ineffective way to identify coral diseases because different diseases can often look very similar,” said Joseph Pollock, a PhD student at the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.
Coral diseases can be caused by a variety of microbes including viruses, bacteria and fungi, and many of these diseases also have very similar characteristics. Knowing exactly which toxic organism is causing a particular disease can greatly improve the reduction in the spread and the impact of these diseases.
Pollock and his team have found a diagnostic method – frequently used in human disease identification and in forensic science – that accurately detects the pathogens in a sample of diseased coral.
“The technology is called quantitative-PCR (qPCR) and is often used in human medical research. qPCR works as a genetic fingerprinting technique that both detects and quantifies a specific DNA molecule in a sample. It can detect pathogens at even very low levels – as few as a couple of bacteria in a cup of seawater,” said Mr. Pollock.
Apart from testing corals for the presence of pathogens, researchers can also use the technology on water samples to gauge the general health of the wider coral reef environment, he said.
“This technology is sure to have many applications in the future”, he said, “as marine environments are put under pressure by multiple impacts from rapid coastal development, declining water quality, and climate change”.
The article can be found at: Pollock FJ et al. (2011) The Urgent Need for Robust Coral Disease Diagnostics.
Source: Australian Institute of Marine Sciences.
Image credits: Jürgen Freund and Stella Chiu-Freund/WWF.
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