Turmeric May Help Counter Coral Bleaching: Study

Turmeric May Help Counter Coral Bleaching: Study

Curcumin, a natural antioxidant substance extracted from turmeric, is effective in reducing coral bleaching, a phenomenon mainly caused by climate change. This was discovered by a group of researchers from the Italian Institute of Technology (Iit) and the University of Milan-Bicocca, in collaboration with the Genoa Aquarium, in a study published in the journal Acs Applied Materials and Interfaces.

Researchers developed a biodegradable biomaterial to deliver the molecule without causing harm to the surrounding marine environment. Tests performed at the Genoa Aquarium have demonstrated significant efficacy in preventing coral bleaching.

The coral bleaching it is a phenomenon which, in extreme events, determines the death of these organisms with devastating consequences for coral reefs, the latter being fundamental for the global economy, the protection of coasts from natural disasters and marine biodiversity. Most corals live in symbiosis with microscopic algae, essential for their survival and responsible for their brilliant colours. Due to climate change, the temperatures of the seas and oceans are increasing, a condition that interrupts the relationship between these two organisms. When this happens, the coral, now white from the loss of algae, literally risks starving to death. In recent years, as a result of climate change, this condition has affected most of the world's major coral reefs, including Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Australia, two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef affected by bleaching

However, to date there are no effective mitigation actions to prevent coral bleaching without seriously endangering the integrity of these habitats and the associated exceptional biodiversity. The study just published has demonstrated the effectiveness of a natural molecule, curcumin, in blocking the bleaching of corals caused by climate change.

The experiment in the Genoa Aquarium

Curcumin is administered in a controlled manner to the coral by applying a zein-based biomaterial, a protein derived from corn, which was developed by the same partners to be safe for the environment. During the tests, carried out in the Genoa Aquarium, the overheating conditions of tropical seas were simulated by raising the water temperature up to 33°C. In this condition all the untreated corals were affected by the bleaching phenomenon as would happen in nature while, on the contrary, all the specimens treated with curcumin showed no signs of this phenomenon, results which make this method effective in reducing the susceptibility of corals to thermal stress.

For this study, one was used coral species (Stylophora pistillata) typical of the tropical Indian Ocean and included in the IUCN Red List (International Union for Conservation of Nature) among the species threatened by extinction.

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"This technology is the subject of a filed patent application, in fact the next steps of this research will focus on the application in nature and on a large scale - says the first author of the study Marco Contardiaffiliated researcher of the Smart Materials group of the Italian Institute of Technology and researcher of the DisatT (Department of Environmental and Earth Sciences) of the University of Milano-Bicocca - at the same time, we will examine the use of other antioxidant substances of natural origin to block the bleaching process and thus prevent the destruction of coral reefs".

Adds Simon Montano Disat researcher and deputy director of the MaRHE Center (Marine Research and Higher Education Center) of the University of Milan-Bicocca: "The use of new biodegradable and biocompatible materials capable of releasing natural substances capable of reducing coral bleaching represents I strongly believe that this innovative approach will represent a significant transformation in the development of strategies for the recovery of marine ecosystems".

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