Scientist have identified a gene that improves the heat tolerance of the algae that live symbiotically with coral species, and could potentially help the corals adapt to some warming.
Ancient jumping genes may give corals new lease of life
Symbiodinium is a unicellular algae that provides its coral host with photosynthetic products in return for nutrients and shelter.
Now, researchers have identified special genes, called retrotransposons, which could help the algae adapt more rapidly to heat stress.
During their study, most genes commonly associated with heat stress were turned off, while a small number of retrotransposons were turned on.
The team suggests that the activation and replication of symbiodinium retrotransposons in response to heat stress could lead to a faster evolutionary response, since producing more mutations increases the chance of generating a beneficial one that allows the symbionts to cope better with this specific stress said geneticist Manuel Aranda.