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  • Megan Stumpf

Bringing Color Back to Coral Reefs with Probiotics

A recent Science Advances article suggests that certain microorganisms can alter coral properties to mitigate coral bleaching and mortality. Beneficial microorganisms for coral, or BMCs for short, were first proposed in 2017 by the article's author, Dr. Raquel Peixoto. Increasing water temperature fueled by climate change has consistently been linked to coral bleaching or the physical whitening of coral colonies due to the disruption of the symbiotic relationship between coral hosts and endosymbiotic algae. However, the importance of coral microbiomes has yet to be understood entirely.

The current hypothesis, also known as the microbiome flexibility hypothesis, suggests the ability of coral hosts to alter their microbiome differs among different coral species. Following the assumption that endosymbiotic coral microbes contribute to stress tolerance, scientists are now exploring the ability to improve stress tolerance and combat coral bleaching (or death) by manipulating these microbes.

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In the study, different fragments of coral were exposed to a “tailored” BMC cocktail or saline placebo. Coral health, microbial activity and functional responses were then measured after 75 days. Interestingly, compared to the control coral, the coral exposed to the BMC consortium showed remarkably increased stress tolerance and survivorship. These findings appeared to be the result of restructuring the endosymbiotic profile and host gene expression, special genes targeted at cellular reconstruction, the immune response and stress protection during recovery.

Shortly following publication, Seed Health announced a new initiative with Dr. Peixoto to develop coral probiotics for coral reef regeneration. “Coral reefs are one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on our planet and play an important role in the health of millions of species, including humans,” said Seed Health co-founder and CEO Dr. Raja Dhir.

Dr. Peixoto and her team were selected as part of the initiative for their ability to “answer critical questions about the potential of probiotics in complex environments like coral reefs,” continued Dr. Dhir.

Seed Health’s announcement elaborates on the recent Science Advances article’s findings, specifically citing the 40% increase in survivorship in coral inoculated with BMCs.

"These data reinforce the role that Beneficial Microorganisms for Corals play in increasing the coral host's resistance against environmental threats while providing new insights into the genetic and metabolic alterations that contribute to coral's survival," said Dr. Peixoto. "I am thrilled to partner with SeedLabs to accelerate the applicability of our research given their domain expertise and thought leadership in probiotics, innovations in delivery technologies and their international ecosystem of additional research partners,” the article states.

This is not Seed Health’s first venture into the use of probiotics outside the human body. For example, SeedLabs has been developing a delivery system for beekeepers to deliver beneficial microbes to honey bee populations following findings that the probiotic cocktail tested improved honey bee survival and immunity against a variety of infections.

Field testing for the company’s coral probiotics initiative is underway in the Red Sea, and more collaborations are expected to be announced at a later date.


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