A study done by postdoctoral researcher Rob Quinn at San Diego State University has found a common molecule responsible for immunological roles in both coral reefs and humans. The molecule, platelet activating factor (PAF), was found to be abundant in tissue samples collected from coral reefs off the Southern Line Islands in the central Pacific Ocean.
In coral reefs, PAF is most commonly produced when stress is imposed on the reef when the coral is forced to compete with algae. In humans, the molecule is a critical component in the immune system and is produced when the immune system is under attack, much like the coral reefs.
|Pristine coral reef located in the Southern Line Islands|
This study is significant because from an evolutionary standpoint it suggests the molecule's immune function dates back at least 550 million years. Knowing what PAF levels look like in healthy and unhealthy coral reefs could also provide oceanographers with a biomarker for these ecosystems' health.
I personally think it is amazing that humans and coral reefs can have anything in common let alone a molecule that is so heavily relied on in the immune system. It is always interesting to see what we as a species can be linked to on a molecular level. I’m hopeful that with this discovery we can move one step closer to protecting the coral reefs that play such an important role in our oceans and keeping them healthy.