Corals, like humans, coexist with a host of microbes that help keep them healthy. As climate change continues to heat the ocean, however, coral reefs risk losing their temperature-sensitive microbial defenders, leaving them stressed and more susceptible to disease. But a potential cure using microbial supplements—probiotics—could provide corals with a second chance.
“It’s just like us. If you’re healthier, you’re more resistant to disease,” says Raquel Peixoto, a microbiologist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, who led the new study.
Peixoto has previously experimented with using microbial engineering to create more sustainable agriculture practices. She thought such an approach could be extended to coral reefs. The idea was simple: create marine equivalents of the probiotics some people take to improve their digestive health.
Peixoto and her collaborators began by taking samples of microorganisms from cauliflower coral, a species of stony coral. In the lab, they isolated a handful of bacteria thought to be beneficial to the coral’s health. Later, they injected the microbes back into the coral to supplement its natural numbers—essentially like feeding probiotic yogurt to the reef.
Photo: Francisco Jesús Navarro Hernández/Unsplash
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