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    Colourful coral could light the way to cancer cure

    February 17, 2012 2 min read

    Colourful coral could light the way to cancer cure

    Nature has provided Sydney scientists with a brilliant underwater palette of colours that will help cancer research. A rare community of highly fluorescent corals, discovered in shallow waters in the Lord Howe Island Marine Park, could also provide clues about how some corals cope with global warming.

    Anya Salih, from the University of Western Sydney, who found the corals with the help of marine park staff, said such vivid species, particularly fluorescent red ones, were usually found in deeper water or under reef overhangs. It was also rare to find such a high number of fluorescent ones crowded in a small area, she said.

    Dr Salih will use pigments from the corals to develop new fluorescent labels to help track the inner workings of cells and study what goes wrong in cancer. Although some fluorescent labels are already available, for example, a green pigment from jellyfish, there was a high demand for new hues, she said. Red was in particular demand because it allowed researchers to see deeper into tissues.

    The corals were found at a depth of about 15 metres near the base of sheer cliffs at the northern end of the island. The Lord Howe Island Marine Park manager, Ian Kerr, said the scientifically important discovery was a good example of why biodiversity in the ocean needed to be protected. ''Often cures are found in nature,'' he said. The island, which is about 600 kilometres east of Port Macquarie, experienced a sudden mass coral bleaching event this year due to high water temperatures.

    ''It's a sign that global warming is beginning to be a threat to coral survival, even to the most southern reefs in Australia,'' Dr Salih said. However, she found the fluorescent corals at Lord Howe were less bleached than the non-fluorescent ones in the park. This supported the idea that fluorescent proteins in the corals helped protect them from stresses such as warmer water, she said.

    Photo by Anya Salih Source: Sydney Morning Herald