Of all the measurable effects of climate change, one of the most visible may be the bleaching of world's coral reefs. Recent reports have suggested that nearly half of the Great Barrier Reef of Australia has already died, Forbes notes. But a new study in PNAS says that CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing could be used to save the coral.
The idea is to modify coral genes, but not to genetically engineer some kind of super-coral that could withstand a hot ocean, Forbes says. Leaving aside the ethical dilemmas of such a project, we currently don't know enough about coral genes to achieve that kind of editing.
Instead, says Phillip Cleves, Stanford postdoctoral scholar and lead author of the PNAS study, CRISPR can be used to figure out how coral works and then use that data to inform conservation efforts in the future. "Maybe there are natural gene variants in coral that bolster their ability to survive in warmer waters; we'd want to know that," he tells Forbes.
Cleves notes that it's urgent to get a better understanding of coral biology and what natural defenses they might possess, adding, "This is an all-hands-on-deck moment. If we can start classifying what genes are important, then we can get an idea of what we can do to help conservation, or even just to predict what going to happen in the future."