Researchers believe that corals are one of the main reservoirs of molecules of interest to fight major public health issues such as cancer, AIDS and Alzheimer.
Corals live with microscopic algae, called “zooxanthellae” , that are ingested at early life stage. Zooxanthellae transfrom the energy from the sun by photosynthesis, providing food to corals.
However, episodes of heat caused by climate changes stress corals that do not recognize anymore the zooxanthellae as “friends”, provoking their destruction and expulsion. This phenomenon is called the “coral bleaching.” We believe that the rising sea water temperatures inhibits the “TGFbeta” that no longer plays the role of immune system moderator, necessary to “protect” the zooxanthellae.
Currently nearly 40% of corals around the world have been destroyed by bleaching. The objective of this project is to study in detail the role of “TGFbeta” ,which remains poorly understood, in the “coral bleaching”. In humans, the “TGFbeta” is involved in diseases such as cancer and malaria. Its overactivation allows these diseases to escape the immune system and to expand in our body.
Here is our planet :
One eighth of the world’s population lives near coral reefs and a large portion of these people depend on for food and incomes generated by tourism.
Beside this, coral reefs constitute important habitats for fishes and other marine animals. They are necessary for the survival of thousands of marine species.
According to our previous research, this symbiosis is made possible thanks to the intervention of an immune molecule called “TGFbeta.” It informs the immune system to tolerate these zooxanthellae that are therefore not destroyed as a microbe.
Deprived of their zooxanthellae, the coral can not use photosynthesis, making them weak and vulnerable. They bleach and generally get new diseases that kill them a few days later.
It is therefore very important to study the mechanism of this molecule in a simple organism like coral in order to understand what is going on in a complex organism like a human being.
Specifically, the project will increase our knowledge on coral bleaching. This is of paramount importance to find adequate measures to deal with this major environmental problem. Moreover, the study of TGFbeta in corals will collect data needed to understand certain human diseases such as cancer , Alzheimer or malaria. As it is the case for any disease, we must first get to know the actors to find ‘the’ solution.