Corals are an integral part of our ecosystem. Coral reefs are the largest biological structures on Earth. So, what are corals? As many people commonly misunderstand, corals are not plants. They are actually animals! They are just not like conventional animals. They attach themselves permanently to the ocean floor and do not have faces or limbs like most animals.
Corals are made up of thousands of tiny creatures called polyps. Polyps are soft bodied. They secrete a hard outer skeleton that is made up of calcium carbonate. This attaches to rocks and to the skeletons of other dead polyps. This is how coral reefs grow enormously.
Coral reefs are crucial to biodiversity. They support numerous organisms in the ocean. Stress factors like high temperature of the ocean water, oxygen and ocean acidity cause coral bleaching that eventually leads to coral death.
Marine biologists have discovered that in such stress-induced environment, corals have the ability to activate a specific group of ancient, defensive genes. These genes can help biologist get a warning sign about the coral condition and thus, avert bleaching.
Global climate change has increased the ocean temperatures. This has increased the frequency of coral bleaching instances worldwide. The problem is corals show no signs before suddenly getting bleached. This breakthrough discovery can help biologists study the genes to understand when bleaching is likely to occur.