CORALADAPT: Identifying heat-resistant corals

Project title: Quantifying and operationalizing genetic adaptation for successful coral restoration (CORALADAPT)
Project lead: James Guest
Countries involved: UK, Australia, Philippines, Palau
Supporting institutions: Newcastle University, University of Queensland, University of the Philippines, Palau International Coral Reef Center, Palau Automated Land And Resource Information Systems
Total budget: $1,459,302
Duration: 36 months

Many corals are currently dying from climate change-related stressors, and unfortunately, if these corals are replanted as part of restoration efforts, they will likely die again in the subsequent heatwave. This is why understanding the capacity for corals to pass on heat tolerance to their offspring could prove critical in the push to create viable new populations. Dr Guest’s team spans Australia, Palau and the Philippines and has recently shown that certain corals do indeed have the capacity to transmit thermal tolerance to their offspring. They have used in vitro fertilization (IVF)-like techniques to reproduce corals in a lab and rear them in an underwater nursery, tracking their genetics so they can monitor whether corals bred from more heat-tolerant parents are also more heat-tolerant themselves. The enhancement in coral thermal tolerance, which could reduce mass bleaching under climate change in future generations of corals, is a huge breakthrough in the field of assisted evolution.