Deep-Sea Coral Reef Glow-In-The-Dark Secrets Revealed In New Research

2017-07-07T15:04:21+00:00 July 7, 2017|
A deep-sea coral glows orange, enhancing the light being used by algae.(Credit: J. Wiedenmann)

(Click to enlarge) A deep-sea coral glows orange, enhancing the light being used by algae. (Credit: J. Wiedenmann)

Scientists have discovered the reason why some deep-sea coral reefs glow in the dark.

(From ABC News / by David Chen) — Researchers from the University of Southampton found corals in deep water survived by making a special type of fluorescent protein. The research found the proteins responsible for acting as sunblock in corals in shallow waters worked differently in deep-sea reefs. The protein absorbs blue light and converts it, to help improve the photosynthetic capacity of algae living in the coral.

Dr. Pim Bongaerts from the University of Queensland said the research filled an important gap of knowledge for scientists.

“We still don’t really understand how these corals can actually survive at these depths,” he said. “They’re very difficult to access, particularly in Australia where we have some really strict diving legislation for the scientific community. Very little research has been done below 50 metres, 20 metres even.”

University of Southampton researchers believe the findings could also be used in human health. The study found the fluorescent proteins could be used in cancer and HIV research by lighting up living cells, making them visible under a microscope.

Dr. Bongaerts said the study could help authorities better understand and protect deep-sea coral on the Great Barrier Reef.

“We know the [Reef] harbours a large amount of deep-reef habitats and we actually estimate the amount of deep-reef habitats is equivalent to that of shallow deeps, even though it’s largely unmapped,” he said. “To protect ecosystems, you have to know how they function and this is a really important knowledge gap in our understanding in how these deep reefs function. These are really important first steps to really get a better understanding of how these ecosystems work and protect them appropriately.”

Dr. Bongaerts said interest in deep-sea corals was growing, due to recent coral bleaching around the world.

“A lot of research is focused on understanding how they’re more protected, whether they’re more protected,” he said. “Also to what extent these deep reefs can play actually play a functional role in shallow-reef communities by acting as a source of larvae.”

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