Why are coral reefs important?
Want to keep
University of Southampton online course,
Exploring Our Ocean
Fluorescence: a hidden worldMany of the pigments that lend some of the striking colours to the corals light up in green and red colours when they are illuminated with ultraviolet of blue light. This process is called fluorescence. Fluorescence is a powerful tool to visualise things as the fluorescent objects stand out from the background in the dark. For instance, one can easily spot and count new coral recruits on reefs. Also, fluorescence can be used to detect how much live tissue is still covering a coral skeleton. Finally, changes in the fluorescence patterns can indicate the presence of parasites in a coral or areas of mechanical stress. Divers exploring coral fluorescence with the help of a blue torch at dusk in the Persian / Arabian Gulf off the coast of Abu Dhabi. Photo by J. Wiedenmann & C. D’Angelo © University of Southampton 2019. Green fluorescent pigments can be found in the polyps and the growth margin of the coral Turbinaria sp. The upper image shows the coral colony as seen under daylight. The lower picture shows the green fluorescence of the coral induced by illuminating the coral with blue light and photographing it through a yellow filter that blocks out the excitation light and lets only the light emitted by the coral pigments pass. Photo by J. Wiedenmann & C. D’Angelo © University of Southampton 2019.Fluorescence can not only be used by divers for reef monitoring purposes, but also in the laboratory to study cells under the microscope. The colourful pigments are in fact proteins and they can be used in biomedical research to monitor the molecular workings of living cells and organisms and teach us how diseases work. We have discovered and isolated the fluorescent protein “EosFP” from a brain coral which can change its colour from green to red. The brain coral Lobophyllia hemprichii shows orange fluorescence when it is illuminated with blue light due the presence of the protein “EosFP. The colour-changing pigment improves the internal light climate in the coral for the benefit of the symbionts in deeper water (see Coral Reefs Step 1 for more information on pigment function). Photo by J. Wiedenmann & C. D’Angelo © University of Southampton 2019.This protein has subsequently helped the Scientist Eric Betzig to develop a novel microscopy technique that enables to study cells with super-resolution. An invention for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2015.Research from the University of Southampton featured at the Royal Society Summer Exhibition in 2017; you can learn more about the use of fluorescent coral pigments and our research in the video below:
This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.
Exploring Our Ocean
Our purpose is to transform access to education.
We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.
We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.