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Hope for Great Barrier Reef? New Study Shows Genetic Diversity of Coral Could Extend Our Chance to Save It
A study published Wednesday had some frightening news for the Great Barrier Reef—the iconic marine ecosystem is at "unprecedented" risk of collapse due to climate change after a 2016 heat wave led to the largest mass coral bleaching event in the reef's history.
But another study published Thursday in PLOS Genetics offers some hope: Corals are still in danger from climate change, but we have an extra 50 years to act to save them.
Researchers from the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, the University of Melbourne and the Australian Institute of Marine Science found that corals in the Great Barrier Reef have enough genetic diversity to survive rising ocean temperatures for another century, which is half-a-century more than previously thought.
"It means these corals will still go extinct if we do nothing," UT Austin professor and lead study author Mikhail Matz said in a UT press release. "But it also means we have a chance to save them. It buys us time to actually do something about global warming, which is the main problem."
Heat is a problem for corals because it causes the algae that live inside them, providing both color and nutrients, to release toxins. The corals then expels the algae. Without the algae, coral bleaches, or turns white, and eventually starves.
The researchers obtained their results using a mix of genetic sampling and computer simulations. They focused on the staghorn coral Acropora millepora, which is a species that plays a significant role in building the Great Barrier Reef.
The current study builds on previous research in which Matz and his team had found corals within this species that had more heat resistant genes than others.
For the current study, they looked at what would happen to coral populations containing these variations as temperatures warm. When the coral colonies reproduce, they release millions of larvae that float on ocean currents before settling in a new location. As waters warm, the more heat-resistant larvae survive, improving the resilience of the colonies they join. This is the process that could buy corals another 50 years.
"This genetic variation is like fuel for natural selection," Matz said in the press release. "If there is enough of it, evolution can be remarkably fast, because all it needs to do is reshuffle the existing variants between the populations. It doesn't have to wait for a new mutation to appear; it's already there. The problem is, when the genetic variation is exhausted, it is over and the future is unclear."
Matz said his research could provide a guide for conservation efforts: Instead of trying to genetically engineer super corals in the lab, scientists should simply mix hardier, existing varieties in with less heat-resistant populations and let evolution do its work.
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‘Companies Should Not Be Allowed to Use Hazardous Ingredients in Products People Use’: Michelle Pfeiffer Speaks Up for Safer Cosmetics
The beauty products we put on our skin can have important consequences for our health. Just this March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that some Claire's cosmetics had tested positive for asbestos. But the FDA could only issue a warning, not a recall, because current law does not empower the agency to do so.
Michelle Pfeiffer wants to change that.
The actress and Environmental Working Group (EWG) board member was spotted on Capitol Hill Thursday lobbying lawmakers on behalf of a bill that would increase oversight of the cosmetics industry, The Washington Post reported.
By Julia Conley
Scientists at the United Nations' intergovernmental body focusing on biodiversity sounded alarms earlier this month with its report on the looming potential extinction of one million species — but few heard their calls, according to a German newspaper report.
The climate crisis is a major concern for American voters with nearly 40 percent reporting the issue will help determine how they cast their ballots in the upcoming 2020 presidential election, according to a report compiled by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
Of more than 1,000 registered voters surveyed on global warming, climate and energy policies, as well as personal and collective action, 38 percent said that a candidate's position on climate change is "very important" when it comes to determining who will win their vote. Overall, democratic candidates are under more pressure to provide green solutions as part of their campaign promises with 64 percent of Democrat voters saying they prioritize the issue compared with just 34 percent of Independents and 12 percent of Republicans.
President Donald Trump has agreed to sign a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill that will help Americans still recovering from the flooding, hurricanes and wildfires that have devastated parts of the country in the past two years. Senate Republicans said they struck a deal with the president to approve the measure, despite the fact that it did not include the funding he wanted for the U.S.-Mexican border, CNN reported.
"The U.S. Senate has just approved a 19 Billion Dollar Disaster Relief Bill, with my total approval. Great!" the president tweeted Thursday.
"There was a lot of devastation throughout the state," Governor Mike Parson said at a Thursday morning press conference, as NPR reported. "We were very fortunate last night that we didn't have more injuries than what we had, and we didn't have more fatalities across the state. But three is too many."