Thu, Aug 30, 2012 - Page 3 News List

Taiwanese team first to find how coral reproduces in hope of rebuilding reefs

RESTORATION PROJECT:The discovery of the vasa gene in the cells of corals is a breakthrough in mapping out how animals that have no real organs can breed

By Lee I-chia  /  Staff reporter

A research team led by National Taiwan Ocean University has become the first to confirm the presence of a vasa gene in the reproductive cells of corals, unveiling the unknown reproductive mechanism of corals and leading to possible artificial breeding of coral.

Chang Ching-fong (張清風), the head of the research team who doubles as the university’s president and professor of aquaculture, said vertebrates have brains that serve as the control center of their nervous system, processing and transmitting messages, and have reproductive organs that produce reproductive cells and sex hormones.

However, the mechanisms initiating growth of reproductive cells in coral — a relatively primitive animal species in evolutionary history that has no real organs — has been a mystery that many scientists have hoped to unravel, Chang said.

After years of research, his research team has finally succeeded in cloning a marker gene, the vasa gene, and discovered its expressions in the early stage of reproductive cells, which is a big step toward unveiling the reproductive mechanisms of corals.

In addition, Chang said his team has also been the first to discover that corals also generate sex hormones throughout the year.

The team also found that the level of the estradiol hormone increases up to six times with the coming of the breeding season in late spring each year, while free and glucuronide forms of estradiol may increase up to 50 to 100 times and are released into the surrounding seawater during the simultaneous mass spawning of corals.

“By finding the vasa gene, locating the reproductive cells of the corals and understanding the control mechanisms of corals’ reproductive cells, we may be able to further control the growth of corals,” he said.

While the initiation of simultaneous mass spawning is influenced by the mechanisms of reproductive cells, external environmental factors such as temperature, tide, water flow speed and lighting are also influential factors, Chang said.

Chang added that the university’s research team would continue to attempt to find the precise factors that influence the reproduction and growth of corals, in the hope of being able to artificially breed corals and restore decimated coral reefs in the future.

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