Scientists to work on coral preservation of the Great Reef

Scientists to work on coral preservation of the Great Reef

Scientists from Australia and the US have joined hands to initiate a preservation process of the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, using human fertility techniques of freezing coral sperm in a bank.

Researchers from Taronga Zoo and Australian Institute of Marine Science have teamed up with the Smithsonian Institute in Washington to start the process that uses cryo-preservation of the coral cover of the Reef.

Cryo-preservation uses preservation techniques by cooling to sub-zero temperatures.
Half of the coral cover in the Reef had disappeared in the last 30 years and researchers were now concerned some of the animal species could soon also disappear, the report said.

The researchers have collected billions of coral sperm during the annual spawning season and some of the coral sperm could remain frozen for thousands of years. Other sperm will be used to help grow new coral to replenish the Great Barrier Reef, according to a Australian Broadcasting Corporation report.

The sperm bank is the biggest cryo-population in the world. Mary Hagedorn of the Smithsonian Institute trialled the process in Hawaii.

"I had been developing this technology in the United States and had successfully cryo-preserved coral sperm and embryonic cells there," Hagedorn said.

"But we thought that we could now start to actively apply this in terms of conservation in Australia and have it impact on the Great Barrier Reef."

She said the sperm bank could be used to regrow coral in the future.

Hagedorn said the sperm has been cryogenically frozen using liquid nitrogen.

"We create a coral fertility clinic and we put them in a bank to hold them for now, but to use them in the future," she said adding "The idea was to bring cryo-preservation technology to the Great Barrier Reef and have it impact on conservation and longevity.

"We put them into cryo-tubes, and then we float them on a little sort of lake of liquid nitrogen that freezes them at about 20 degrees per minute, down to minus 196. Then we immerse them in liquid nitrogen and then put them in a dry shipper".

According to Rebecca Spindler of Taronga Zoo, who has also joined the researchers to set up the bank said "We fell in love with the coral work straight away. I think then what we were able to provide was a really consistent, very good and secure way of keeping that coral forever."

The coral gene bank will be stored at the Western Plains Zoo in outback New South Wales, under the watch of Dr Spindler.

Spindler said other sperm is already being used to help fertilise new coral and replenish the Reef.

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