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Corals need to take their vitamin C

Dose needed for larvae to build stony skeleton, gene activity shows

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1:00pm, February 23, 2016
mustard hill corals

VITAMIN CORAL  Mustard hill corals use vitamin C when building their skeletons, just like humans do, researchers propose.

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NEW ORLEANS — Hard corals may need a dose of vitamin C when building their stony skeletons. New research finds that when free-floating coral larvae settle down and calcify their skeletons, genes associated with the transport of vitamin C get busy. Without enough of the vitamin, corals might even get scurvy.

The work will help scientists better understand how such environmental shifts as climate change will impact coral calcification (SN Online: 10/8/15), said Joshua Rosenthal, a neurobiologist at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan. Rosenthal presented the work February 22 at the American Geophysical Union’s Ocean Sciences Meeting.

coralWhile coral reefs support vibrant ecosystems, scientists don’t fully understand corals’ calcification process. Rosenthal and colleagues measured which genes switched on when mustard hill corals (Porites astreoides) transitioned out of their larval stage. The gene associated with shuttling vitamin C across cell walls had the biggest jump in activity, the researchers found. Rosenthal proposed that corals use vitamin C similarly to humans, to help weave together strands of cartilage.

Aquarium hobbyists may have inadvertently discovered the importance of vitamin C to corals well before the new research, Rosenthal said: Aquarists sometimes add vitamin C to their fish tanks to perk up their corals.

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