Monaco Scientific Centre and partners make huge advance in understanding coral

Photo taken in Aqaba, Jordan/D. Zoccola CSM
Photo taken in Aqaba, Jordan/D. Zoccola CSM

The genome of the first “robust” coral has been sequenced thanks to international collaboration between the Monaco Scientific Centre and King Abdullah University of Sciences of Saudi Arabia.

Tropical reefs are threatened with destruction by 2050 due to climate change and the entire scientific community is trying to find solutions to safeguard this ecosystem, one that is vital to economic and societal support for more than 500 million people worldwide.

Last October, HSH Prince Albert, in association with HRH Prince Charles of Wales and his International Sustainability Unit and HRH Queen Noor of Jordan, launched the “Coral Reef Life” declaration aimed at protecting this ecosystem.

One of these solutions is a better knowledge of the animals responsible for the formation of these reefs: hard corals. These live in symbiosis with unicellular photosynthetic algae that provide them with food. Corals appeared about 430 million years ago and evolved into two large families, called “robust” and “complex”, about 230 million years ago.

The genome of a representative of the corals of the “complex” family was sequenced in 2011, giving important information on the immune system of these animals, curiously very similar to that of the vertebrates.

It took six years before the teams of biologists from the Scientific Centre of Monaco (CSM), King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia and the Université Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium) managed to sequence the first representative of the other large family, that of the robust ones, and show that the coral genomes can be surprisingly disparate. Indeed, these two corals have developed different immune systems as a result of several gene duplications. They also have a different physiological response to stress.

This comparative genomics study will enable researchers to identify and understand the sensitivity of corals to climate change, including the breakdown of symbiosis, known as bleaching, and their mechanisms of adaptation to ocean acidification and to warming. It should be noted that the sequenced species, Stylophora pistillata, is widely used around the world as a biological model.

This study, published on Thursday, December 14, in the journal Scientific Reports, is a giant leap forward in the advancement of knowledge of corals.


Chinese research project financed by Prince Albert II Foundation