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Penn State Biologist and Team Receive $4M for Coral Reef Research


A team of international researchers, including Pennsylvania State University biologist Iliana Baums, has received a $4 million grant to identify corals that can naturally survive rising ocean temperatures due to climate change.

The multi-million dollar grant is one of four projects supported by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. The foundation has so far donated $7 million to research coral reef ecosystems.

Baums explained that warming waters can lead to bleaching in reefs or the corals expelling the symbiont microalgae that nourish them. “But some corals may be better equipped to deal with warming waters than others,” she stated.

To find these heat-tolerant corals, Baums and her team are performing a heat-stress test through a portable experimental system called the Coral Bleaching Automated Stress System. This method exposes coral species to varying temperatures. Researchers can then gauge their bleaching response and separate resilient corals from non-resilient colonies.

Baums also said they are focusing on why some corals are heat-resistant as opposed to the remaining coral population. The team will then “use that knowledge to slow the decline of coral reefs.”

Sustainable Solutions

Led by Christian Voolstra at Konstanz University in Germany, the project includes members from Old Dominion University in Virginia, the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, and the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Queensland.

The grant will help the team develop sustainable solutions within a three-year period built on their initial research.

“We are at a critical juncture with coral reefs facing extinction and the world must continue to invest in actionable research that ensures their preservation and long-term survival,” co-founder and chair of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, Jody Allen, said.

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