Study Discovered that Elkhorn Corals Fight and Resist Reef Diseases Actively


In a new study, researchers have discovered that the Elkhorn corals fight and resist reef diseases actively. Their findings show that corals have a capacity for a core immunity response to various disease types.

The Importance and Role of Immunity

We have become more acutely aware of our immune system’s importance, and role as the entire world struggles against COVID-19. A healthy immune system can ward off many diseases and help protect our bodies from harm. 

Scientists have found that this system is not only present in humans but in corals as well. The researchers who published the study are from the Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science of the UM or University of Miami.

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A New Study on Coral Immunity

Their new study found that corals do wage battles to defend themselves from deadly diseases that spread on reefs.

Their research paper is entitled “Innate immune gene expression in Acropora palmata is consistent despite variance in yearly disease events,” which was published last October 22, 2020, in PLoS One.

The Methodology of the Study

In the research, the team studied the elkhorn coral’s immune system. This species (Acropora palmata) is essential in reefs because it has a reef-building function in the Caribbean sea.

The study’s objective was to understand the coral’s response against diseases more deeply. Such important diseases afflicting the corals include rapid tissue loss and white band disease.

The experiment entailed disease-ridden grafting corals to healthy ones, which they analyzed after a week.

The study wanted to determine the overall gene expression of the corals in response to disease. They wanted to see if the graft elicited an immune response. They also sought to determine if various gene expression signatures did not show any traces of disease transmission.

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Results of the Study

The study findings indicated that the A. palmata coral is equipped with a core immunity response to various diseases. These corals can mount an active immune defense against exposure to multiple conditions regardless of the virulence or type of these diseases.

According to senior study author and UM Rosenstiel School ecology and marine biology assistant professor Nikki Traylor-Knowles, their study revealed that the elkhorn coral is not at all immune-compromised. Instead, it tries to fight diseases actively. The research shows that corals can and do fight back through a functioning and effective immune system.


The study results showed that the immunity of the corals to diseases could be due to their stricter epithelium. This is a cell layer that serves to cover and protect the external parts of their bodies.

Also, the researchers found another curious development from their experiment. The corals’ Symbiodinium symbiote, a dinoflagellate from the Family Symbiodiniaceae found within them, initially did not exhibit any differences in their gene expression due to the grafted disease. However, after the study’s two-year duration, they found that it developed differences.

According to Traylor-Knowles, understanding the Elkhorn corals’ immune systems, a keystone Florida reef species, is essential in the fight against reef diseases and reefs’ protection. 

READ NEXT: Study on Crown-Of-Thorns’ Evolutionary History May Help Mitigate Destruction of Coral Reefs 

Check out more news and information on Corals on Nature World News. 

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