CRISPR is a gene-editing tool (CRISPR-Cas9) that allows researchers to tweak any gene in plants or animals and the coral reefs could be the next target for this practice. Researcher Phillip Cleves and team at Stanford University published a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, in which they used the CRISPR technique to edit three specific genes in corals growing in the Australia Great Barrier Reef.
Australia's Great Barrier Reef is a major concern for coral life.
The genes that the researchers manipulated in the coral's early life cycle, just after the fertilization of egg via sperm. While the coral was a single cell, the genes were manipulated to ensure that all the subsequent cells of the coral would contain the manipulated genes. Two of the manipulated genes were responsible for reef coloring (using red and green fluorescent proteins) and the other regulates growth of coral.
The manipulation of genes to coral is difficult however, due to the reproduction behaviors of coral. Basically, coral only spawn once or twice per year, so the researchers had a very limited window. Results of the CRISPR experiment allow researchers to take more coral genes and determine what they do. Through this research, they may be able to cause coral to become more resilient to bleaching due to environmental conditions. The researchers claim that they will not use the research to genetically engineer the coral at this point, but are using it to develop a database of information.
Personally, I believe in global warming and climate change and seeing the effects of it on our environment are disheartening. I also believe that coral reefs are not seen as important as they are. They are responsible and a key species in ecosystems. In addition, they help to protect coastlines from wave actions and provide habitats for marine organisms. Bleaching of the coral causes them to become weak and more susceptible to disease. This minor change can kill coral and cause a disruption in the ecosystem. I am totally for genetic engineering when it is ethically correct, and in this case, the use of engineering is to protect marine ecosystems and help to suppress the effect of global warming on the ocean. Over the next few years, I will be happy to see more research done on coral and their genes to try to protect the different species.