Coral and algae have a very special relationship. Coral provides algae with shelter while algae give coral energy and its signature colors. Despite the critical nature of this relationship, scientists had never witnessed the moment in which coral cells envelop single-cell algae. That is until now.
Researchers from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology study stony coral, a highly threatened species. After successfully culturing a stony coral in the lab, they were able to introduce microscopic algae samples to the coral and witness a previously-unseen phenomenon.
The observed coral swallowed the algae in 30 minutes and had completely engulfed it within 24 hours. This is not only significant as a scientific first but also important for helping researchers better understand the codependent relationship between coral and algae.
“This would be very exciting as then we can ask new questions, like how the corals react when placed under stress,” said senior study author Noriyuki Satoh. “This could give us a more complete understanding of how bleaching occurs, and how we can mitigate it.”