Bacteria eroding miles of Caribbean coral reefs could be halted in future by giving the beauty spots a precautionary dose of probiotics - almost like a ‘Yakult’ for the reefs - suggests a research team led by the University of Derby.
Microbes including bacteria, fungi and viruses can kill living corals and erode vast stretches of their reefs, with those in the Caribbean having particularly been threatened by White Band Disease (WBD) over the last 40 years. This is not only seen as an ecological disaster - due to the many species that live on and around the coral reefs - but also as affecting tourism, coastlines and the local fishing industry.
An international research team led by the University of Derby and including Newcastle University, the Universidad Simón Bolívar of Venezuala and the University of the South Pacific of Fiji looked at what caused WBD and how coral reefs might be protected from it. Researchers found that, not unlike humans, numerous antibiotics stopped the disease or significantly slowed it down. By studying the corals this way, the researchers were able to determine what caused WBD thorough a process of elimination. They tested four different antibiotics to see what effect they had on the disease and found that two successfully cured the corals.
Even though two different antibiotics cured the corals, the researchers do not advocate using this tactic with corals in the ocean, as excessive antibiotic use can create antibiotic-resistant microbes and superbugs.
Instead, they suggest using a probiotic to replace the natural defenses that the coral loses when it gets sick.
In our opinion, these results highlight why researchers have struggled to find a single agent causing these ‘White Syndromes’ on coral reefs around the world. - Michael Sweet Researc team leader and senior lecture in Invertebrate Biology at UD.