Probiotics Are a Possible Key to Saving Overheated Corals

The community of microorganisms called a microbiome is often associated with good foods for a person’s gut health. In the latest studies, probiotics have been found to be not just good for human health but also for corals. Climate change has gravely affected the corals, and the marine ecosystem is now more prone to bleaching — this occurs even during the La Niña season. Now, probiotics will be tested on corals, and scientists are developing devices to properly apply the microbes to marine life.

Photo: PxHere/DTUputbelic

A trial experiment was conducted in Rio de Janeiro in 2021. It was led by marine biologist Gustavo Duarte and researchers João Rosado and Pedro Cardoso, both from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Raquel Peixoto also participated in the experiment. She was the mentor of the whole trial, as she was the first researcher to publish the first probiotics testing in 2015. The assessment was held in a laboratory at the AquaRio aquarium. About twenty aquarium tanks accommodated twenty meters wide of various coral fragments treated with probiotics.

“Recently, someone asked me whether I was optimistic or crazy, and I am thinking a little about both,” says Raquel Peixoto, a microbial ecologist at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. “You have to be a little crazy to think these things can happen and work.”

These scientists are now trying to beat time — the time left until coral reefs are completely conquered by bleaching. They are working non-stop to find the best solution for this issue and make probiotics work successfully. The scientists created a microbiome with six marine bacteria found in coral reefs. They used Mussismilia hispida as a subject for their experiment — a brown or gray coral growing on the coast of Brazil. To closely create a simulation, they raised the temperature from 26 degrees Celsius to 30 degrees Celsius.

Photo: Pixabay/steinchen

The 75-day study gathered plentiful data. Apparently, corals did not bleach after 75 days, proving the effectiveness of probiotics in the survival of these marine species.

“One difference appears to be that the bacteria provide nutrients that help the polyps endure the loss of algae food by breaking down a molecule called dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP), which was released when temperatures rose,” Peixoto said.

For further assurance, the team has set out to test probiotics in an actual marine ecosystem. They will venture to the isolated reefs of the Red Sea and monitor the area exposed to probiotics. The team is in the process of finding innovative ways to widely spread the treatment in the marine ecosystem — including spraying time-delayed capsules or utilizing robots to scatter probiotics on the coral reefs. This discovery could be the most effective way to keep marine life thriving during the ongoing rise of the planet’s temperature.

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