CSIRO Scientists Accidentally Prove Coral Rapidly Adapts to Global Warming

Healthy coral growing in an allegedly dead heat stressed reef. Author Peter Ridd

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

CSIRO Scientists have subjected coral symbiont algae to heat stress over four years, and produces a strain of algae which can help coral thrive in temperatures which normally cause coral bleaching. They hope the new heat resistant algae can be useful for inoculating reefs suffering heat stress.

Scientists successfully develop heat resistant coral to fight bleaching

14 May 2020

A team of scientists has successfully produced in a laboratory setting a coral that is more resistant to increased seawater temperatures.

The team included researchers from CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the University of Melbourne.

Corals with increased heat tolerance have the potential to reduce the impact of reef bleaching from marine heat waves, which are becoming more common under climate change.

“Coral reefs are in decline worldwide,” CSIRO Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform (SynBio FSP) science lead Dr Patrick Buerger said.

“Climate change has reduced coral cover, and surviving corals are under increasing pressure as water temperatures rise and the frequency and severity of coral bleaching events increase.”

The team made the coral more tolerant to temperature-induced bleaching by bolstering the heat tolerance of its microalgal symbionts – tiny cells of algae that live inside the coral tissue.

“Our novel approach strengthens the heat resistance of coral by manipulating its microalgae, which is a key factor in the coral’s heat tolerance,” Dr Buerger said.

The team isolated the microalgae from coral and cultured them in the specialist symbiont lab at AIMS. Using a technique called “directed evolution”, they then exposed the cultured microalgae to increasingly warmer temperatures over a period of four years.

This assisted them to adapt and survive hotter conditions.

“Once the microalgae were reintroduced into coral larvae, the newly established coral-algal symbiosis was more heat tolerant compared to the original one,” Dr Buerger said.

The microalgae were exposed to temperatures that are comparable to the ocean temperatures during current summer marine heat waves causing coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef.

The researchers then unveiled some of the mechanisms responsible for the enhanced coral bleaching tolerance.

“We found that the heat tolerant microalgae are better at photosynthesis and improve the heat response of the coral animal,” Professor Madeleine van Oppen, of AIMS and the University of Melbourne, said.

“These exciting findings show that the microalgae and the coral are in direct communication with each other.”

The next step is to further test the algal strains in adult colonies across a range of coral species.

“This breakthrough provides a promising and novel tool to increase the heat tolerance of corals and is a great win for Australian science,” SynBio FSP Director Associate Professor Claudia Vickers said.

This research was conducted by CSIRO in partnership with AIMS and the University of Melbourne. It was funded by CSIRO, Paul G. Allen Family Foundation (U.S.A.), AIMS and the University of Melbourne

Source: CSIRO

Its great news that scientists have developed heat resistant algae, which could be used to inoculate reefs suffering heat stress.

But do coral reefs really need human help?

My question, and I know it might seem radical; do you think it is possible that if the entire ocean warms up, natural selection on a global scale might rapidly replicate what scientists managed to achieve by heat stressing algae in their lab tank?

63 thoughts on “CSIRO Scientists Accidentally Prove Coral Rapidly Adapts to Global Warming

  1. I read somewhere (could have been on WattsUp – sorry I can’t remember) that one of the causes of coral damage is the chemicals in Sun Screen. Australian families use GALLONS of the stuff !
    It would be interesting to know whether the researchers have tried to simulate the effect on their new super-duper coral of a bit of Factor 50.

    Look, I don’t mind the researchers coming up with this stuff, but I’d like to see what plans they have for ensuring that if this new stuff doesn’t work as planned, it isn’t going to wipe out half the Barrier Reef. Remember Cane Toads that were thought to be a great idea when they were introduced to Queensland, or Rabbits that were thought would be a great idea in NSW. We’re still suffering from those two great ideas.

    • Not only cane toads. The CSRO, as it was called back then, supported the Qld Govn’t and the Brisbane Sugar Company to introduce the toad to fight beetle infestations on sugar plantations because they wanted to introduce the European toad in other states.

      I never trust anything that is published by the CSIRO about climate change.

      • Yes – they overlooked the fact that the beetles could climb, but the toads couldn’t.

    • They have only one goal. That is to find a ‘solution’ to the death of reefs ‘all over the world’ (without actual evidence). That solution can then be applied, and they ‘saved’ the reefs from the death that was actually never happening.

      The same goal of increasing unreliables in order to claim that they ‘fixed’ the climate when it refuses to warm as predicted. That one they are losing, however.

      • Current climate alarmists ignore that coral has survived oceans rising, oceans falling, high CO2 low CO2, high temperatures, low temperature, for Millions of years. Still here.
        I live in Florida, my part is basically a dirty sandbar on top of a (very dead, thank you) coral reef. Called around here “Limestone.”
        Why cant’t we agree that if we hit the obscene population level of 10E9 we NEED 850 ppm CO2 to survive?

    • OldCynic, the GBR proper is mostly > 100kms East of the Qld coast, at the edge of the continental shelf.

      Most people can never access these regions, let alone go swimming or snorkeling there.

      So sunscreen damage to the GBR is not a possibility.

      Inshore coastal fringing reefs on the Qld coast are a different situation.
      But these are not a part of the GBR.

      • Mr,
        Big thanks for noting this.
        Very few people have actually seen the Reef proper, in its glory.
        It is too far out to sea for day trips.
        I was lucky to have a week at Brampton island, one of the near-coast reef locations, at age 9, in 1950, before tourism spoiled it. We honeymooned at Magnetic Is, very close to shore and with not much reef. These glimpses and more left me wanting desperately to study the proper Reef as an adult, when we lived in Townsville. There were several thwarted attempts using amphibious aircraft, cancelled from bad weather or logistics. Other attempts were with boats able to moor at the Outer Reef for days, but too expensive. It is still nearly impossible for Average Joe.

        Therefore, as a scientist, I read Reef scientific reports with special, frustrated interest. As a graduate of James Cook Uni, I hate to see credible research like that from Peter Ride abused by grant seeking, poor scientists. I read their papers, study their conflicting science and I am forced to reject some of the major, trendy hypotheses. Not from idealism, but because poor science. Geoff S

        • Why does automatic spell check change Ridd to something wrong, each time I try? Geoff S

        • Geoff I too find myself shouting at the tv news when some dipsy reporter standing on the foreshore at Townsville proceeds to breathlessly regale us with reports from JCU that half the GBR is dead.
          Then we’re shown video clips of inshore shallow water fringing reef outcrops above low water level that get pulverized by every seasonal cyclone, but still manage to recover in relatively short time.

          Like you, I’ve taken the trouble (and it IS trouble) to visit the GBR proper on several occasions. And what a wonder it is.
          Back in the early ’70s I lucked out by flying from Brisbane to Port Moresby direct on a clear calm sunny day, and the pilot treated us to tracking up the GBR all the way, flying as low as he could get clearance for. That’s half a day flying in a commercial jetliner to get from one end of the GBR to the other.
          People just don’t appreciate how big the GBR proper is.

          So now when I hear the JCU muppets claim that they’ve “surveyed” large percentages of the GBR over a week or so and observed at close hand large areas of bleaching, I call BS.

    • Sunscreen would have the greatest effect close to shore or where they may swim with it on. Most of the Great Barrier Reef would not be damaged by this.

      With a bit of Greek in my heritage (vs my English & German heritage) I can take 20mins of midday summer sun before it starts to burn. SPF15+ would be fine for most of my activities upto 4hrs in the sun, SPF30+ for all day (reapplied as required). I guess people with darker skin could last 60mins (maybe longer) of midday sun before burning so why do shops force them to use SPF50+ (but lips & eyes need more protection)? I and many others don’t need this much sunscreen during winter or avoiding the hottest 4hrs. If you have red hair and freckles and start to burn in less than 8 minutes then you will need the SPF50+ at times. There is no such thing as a “normal” human so love the skin you’re in.

  2. “marine heat waves, which are becoming more common under climate change.”
    Where is the evidence that supports this idiotic proposition?
    To which climate is the reference? How is that ‘climate’ measured, in order for a ‘change’ to be identified?
    How is an ‘marine heat wave’ measured? Why does this proposition presuppose that it is in any way, shape of form unusual? How much longer must we suffer this nonsense?

    • Karabar –> Very good questions. I am always amazed at the lack of science when seeing these claims. No data about what temps were or what a “good temp range” that has been scientifically determined actually is. Nothing but broad general assertions with no science behind them.

  3. What concerns me, is they will next put in in the ocean, and then when things do as they normally do after a bleaching event, THEY will claim the ‘success’ and say ‘SEE, are developments SAVED these reefs in bleaching events’, and the LAMESTREAM media will push it, everywhere, to make people think it COULDN’T HAVE BEEN DONE without these noble scientists, they ‘saved’ coral . . . and the sheeple will believe this BS . . .

  4. Follow the money? What fun would it be to allow adaption solve the problem, when several agencies can divvy up some research money? Then that pesky Peter Ridd tried to mess up the party and they had to shush him up. What will they study next?

  5. So, they exposed native arrays of algae to rising water temperatures, and the native algal population distribution self-selected to strains more tolerant of higher temperatures.

    Whoop-de-do. They did synthetically in the lab what happens naturally in the wild.

    Cock-a-doodle-do! Another CSIRO egg!

    If corals are in decline world wide (are they?), then it’s not due to climate change™.

    • Exactly, they recreated in their lab what the corals have been doing for, oh, 600 million years. Give them a lollypop, only one each, and send them home.

      • with luck a LOT of the climate scamming bogus research grants etc will be canned due to the lackof OS students fees
        apparently the big unis are in panic mode
        couldnt happen to more deserving people!
        ONLY meaningful research, with solid useful expectations to be done?
        ww how novel would that be?
        be truly thankful if it halted the truly assinine psych stunts and lib arts stuff too

  6. Stony corals and their algal symbionts have survived and flourished in waters much hotter than any today. Not only can they adapt via natural selections, but can also move to water more to their liking.

    They evolved in the Middle Triassic, so experienced the hot tub temperature waters of the mid-Cretaceous and other torrid intervals of the past 240 million years.

  7. It’s amazing how some scientists can reveal for the very first time that which is already known.

  8. Personally I am pretty dang sure corals have survived for many, many natural ups and downs in global temperatures and these people should find something useful to research.

  9. “do you think it is possible that if the entire ocean warms up, natural selection on a global scale might rapidly replicate what scientists managed to achieve by heat stressing algae in their lab tank?”

    Eric, that is exactly what would happen! This is how an unbought scientist would design a research project to check if coral with their simbionts already nestled in with them could survive projected warming. They seem to know that if the algae survive, the coral would, too.They didn’t genetically modify the algae or do other than what nature would have subjected the simbionts to.

    I think you should mail a link to the CSIRO person. I and others have pointed out that a large number of climate research projects’ data support completely different conclusions than the ones they choose to present. Early efforts to demote CO2 as the most important agent in the Great Greening of the planet is an example (you could tell from the twists and turns in the prose they didn’t want to talk about the greening at all, but knew they had to say something without showing CO2 to have value.)

    In many studies, the clumbsy attempts to get the desired result are telling that the straight ahead design had to be ‘helped’. M Mann using the contaminated Tiljander Lake bottom muds upside down(!), weighting the stripbark pine dozens of times over, choosing one Yamal tree’s rings from a hundred others, inventing a stats method that always gives a hockey stick shape to red noise and splicing on the annual modern weatherstation temperatures to the end of the much less grainy proxy results for the ‘blade’. That takes top prize, of course.

    BTW, why do Australian academics have such overwrought foppish titles for their research divisions and faculties? “CSIRO Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform (SynBio FSP)”, indeed! Or ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes! Or The Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science. Hey what happens if the climate doesn’t warm up.

    The-protesteth-too-much titles are up there with ‘Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’ and the “Deutsche Demokratische Republik”. These ornaments not only don’t fool people, but they give the impression that they are the opposite to what the title promises.

    • Points to them for reporting the result, instead of filing it in the circular filing cabinet. But the spin they put on, they’re standing ready with a heat tolerant algae, is just hilarious.

  10. It’s amazing how adaptable life is, coral being no exception.

    How many times are the alarmists wrong?

  11. Don’t worry about the Corals, they like it hot. What they do not like is cold.
    Corals are found across the world’s oceans, in both shallow and deep water, but reef-building corals are only found in shallow tropical and subtropical waters.

  12. Corals are found across the world’s oceans, in both shallow and deep water, but reef-building corals are only found in shallow tropical and subtropical waters. Corals like it hot and we can be assured that they have lasted this long by being able to look after themselves. Hopefully, Peter Ridd is moving out of his hot water now into more comfortable areas.

    • Yes, I was about to point this out but you had made the point already – the corals would have already evolved along the length of the GBR. Unless the focus of all this research is for the varieties (if any) that are restricted to the very southern tip of the GBR.

  13. Sea levels have fluctuated since long before the start of the Phanerozoic Eon with the Cambrian explosion of life 541 million years ago. By their present existence, corals must be able to adapt to changing sealevels from gravity fluxes in the solar system caused by Earth’s varying distance from the sun and Earth’s lap cyles with the four outer planets of the solar system with 445 times the mass of Earth.

  14. “Using a technique called “directed evolution”, they then exposed the cultured microalgae to increasingly warmer temperatures over a period of four years. This assisted them to adapt and survive hotter conditions.” This sounds like Lysenko genetics. The real world doesn’t work that way. As Pat Frank pointed out – ” the native algal population distribution self-selected to strains more tolerant of higher temperatures.”

  15. I wonder which strain they used? Coral already thrives through a range of about 12 degrees C, and can cope with 40 C temporarily according to NOAA.
    For most of its range, there already exist corals that thrive in temperatures several degrees higher than the local species.
    And of course, there remains the fact that local temperatures vary far more than global ones do, so most species already have recessive genes that will enable the species to survive temperature changes far higher than those the models predict. Selection is selection, whether done by man or nature. What this experiment has done is to prove that fact., and refute those who proclaim “the problem with global warming is its unprecedented speed. ” As the experiment shows, it’s not a problem.

    • I’m embarrassed. Basically I just said exactly the same as Eric did in the article. Sorry, I initially read that too superficially. Good article.

  16. “Directed Evolution”. Really? You mean like “Hot Cold” or “Up Down”?

    • Ron, ‘directed evolution’ is not a contradiction in terms.
      Selection is selection, whether it’s done purposefully as humans have done with dog breeds, or naturally like nature creating the Polar Polar Bears’ adaptations.

  17. Re: the May 14 CSIRO press release quoted above, claiming a breakthrough . . . “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”—Shakespeare’s Macbeth

  18. ”The team made the coral more tolerant to temperature-induced bleaching by bolstering the heat tolerance of its microalgal symbionts – tiny cells of algae that live inside the coral tissue.

    “Our novel approach strengthens the heat resistance of coral by manipulating its microalgae, which is a key factor in the coral’s heat tolerance,” Dr Buerger said.”

    Blah blah blah. Just leave the damn things alone. They know better than you what to do, if and when they need to do it.

  19. It is a little embarrassing for the for the scientific bodies that study the GBR in Australia.
    While the global oceans may have warmed slightly over the last 100 years or more, the GBR waters have not. The HadSST data, with significant uncertainties, shows no warming in the three relevant grid cells since 1925 and about 0.2C warming since 1871.
    The 2 nearest island groups, Vanuatu and The Solomon Islands, to the reef show no SST rise since records began 30 years ago. http://www.bom.gov.au/oceanography/projects/spslcmp/data/monthly.shtml
    The Australian Institute of Marine Sciences show no SST increase since in the GBR waters since their record began in 1994. http://data.aims.gov.au/aimsrtds/datatool.xhtml
    How the scientific authorities managed to convince the world a few years ago that 60 to 90% of the GBR was dead due to global warming is simply extraordinary, given that, to the best of our knowledge, the SST has not risen in 100 years or more.

    • Bob Irvine,
      Your line of inquiry is a good start, but it is still a little general. If you look just at average or maximum daily sea surface temperatures, you have incomplete pictures because what might be important are factors like fast changes during a day if damage, or alternatively days when the temperature was high for many hours of a day, both factors that need T profiling not generally available for much of the Reef.
      Then again, T might not even be the key factor. Maybe it is UV light flux. Maybe it is low tides with dry winds an UV in rare combinations.
      You still need to show that a hot atmosphere is able to cause a hot sea surface. Geoff S

      • Geoff
        Thanks for the reply.
        “Your line of inquiry is a good start, but it is still a little general”
        I, of course, agree that there are many possible causes of damage to the GBR.
        Ray Steel believes that the 2016 bleaching event may have resulted from a 150mm sea level drop due to the large El Nino at that time. His argument was that shallow ponds became shallower with warming spikes that resulted in bleaching etc. Certainly a possibility.
        My point, possibly misunderstood, was that non of the spike, UV, tide etc. points you made are related to possible incremental warming caused by human CO2 emission.
        If GBR waters have not warmed in 100 years, then AGW is not relevant to any damage to the GBR.
        In keeping with the posted article, I was simply pointing out the corruption of our scientific institutions when they claim significant damage to the GBR from AGW.

    • That is not surprising, given that water evaporates when warmed and is replaced by cooler water from its surroundings.

  20. Having survive millions of years of variant temperatures ranging 10s of degrees C I don’t think coral needs our help to manage to adapt to 2 degrees C of global warming. If there is a specie whose existence is threatened at the moment it surely are these alarmist warmist climate scientists.

  21. Bob Irvine,
    Your line of inquiry is a good start, but it is still a little general. If you look just at average or maximum daily sea surface temperatures, you have incomplete pictures because what might be important are factors like fast changes during a day if damage, or alternatively days when the temperature was high for many hours of a day, both factors that need T profiling not generally available for much of the Reef.
    Then again, T might not even be the key factor. Maybe it is UV light flux. Maybe it is low tides with dry winds an UV in rare combinations.
    You still need to show that a hot atmosphere is able to cause a hot sea surface. Geoff S

    • It’s high pressure cells generating low sea level and tides, clear skies, calm seas, and clear water resulting in extended periods of extreme UV radiation … period!!

      • The reality is that variations in the speed of Earth’s rotation drive evaporation rates. UV has very little water penetration. High energy blue light has very deep water penetration and is more likely to affect corals than the longer wavelengths near the red/green edge of the spectrum

  22. Please you CO2-heads:

    Leave the coral reefs alone – they have handled all kinds of climate for millions of years.
    Instead, use your research money on learning statistics & stuff, ask e.g. Steve McIntyre for a brief introduction!

  23. I’m sure they will soon receive certain directions from James Cook University to cease and desist this code of conduct breach into coral reef science.

  24. It would appear that most coral bleaching is occurring in areas that are out of the water at low tide.
    Surely, the coming catastrophic rise in sea level will correct this ?

  25. The Flower Gardens, now a marine sanctuary near the shelf edge off the Louisiana-Texas border is an example of a marginal reef, minimum T around 20C. It was a delta during the Pleistocene, so is rather young. A special issue came out in the now defunct Gulf of Mexico Science (1998, 16,2) but is now available through Gulf and Caribbean Research. https://aquila.usm.edu/gcr/all_issues.html

    There has been a lot of research since.

  26. The Red Sea has some of the hottest ocean waters and finest corals on earth.

    This is ignored by climate scientists that “know” coral bleaching is caused by global warming.

    It is strange that Australia with its colder ocean temperatures has more coral bleaching than Indonesia with much warmer ocean temperatures.

    I would have thought that if global warming was the cause of bleaching, then those countries right on the equator would see the most bleaching.

    But that doesn’t appear to be the case. Could it be that climate science assumed cause and effect without actually doing any science?

    • Well, the abbreviated letters for “Scientific” and “Research” are definitely debatable.

      Yes?

    • . . . but nothing that nature hasn’t been doing for billions of years, and often with much larger consequences, such as when cyanobacteria converted Earth’s entire atmosphere from weakly reducing to oxidizing. Ref: “Great Oxidation Event (GOE)”, “Oxygen Holocaust”, or “Oxygen Revolution”.

  27. Corals have survived periods that have been far warmer than now. They must have adapted as they are still here. Both, the Medieval Climate Optimum and the Roman Climate Optimum have been warmer than the one we go through now. They were not caused by humans so corals evidently dealt with them and the many others before them. If corals died from warmer water, there could not be a coral in the seas for millions of years now. But they are. Its time we got real.

Comments are closed.