BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: symbiotic relationship

It’s Time to Pay Attention to the Reef

You’ve heard time and time again about how coral reefs are dying, little by little- and that’s because it’s true. We can and should stop it; if we don’t, we risk everything we’ve ever known.

A healthy coral reef at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.

The warming of the oceans is caused by a number of things, almost all of them placing humans at fault. These elements include fossil fuel use, deforestation, and cement production. The creation of greenhouse gases warms the Earth itself, so far by almost 33º F since 1880. This includes the warming of the oceans. Melting glaciers (because of ocean warmth) increase sea levels and can even lead to more powerful and dangerous storms. The increase in CO2 in the water causes ocean acidification as well.

The warming of the oceans is caused by a number of things, almost all of them placing humans at fault. These elements include fossil fuel use, deforestation, and cement production. The creation of greenhouse gases warms the Earth itself, so far by almost 33º F since 1880. This includes the warming of the oceans. Melting glaciers (because of ocean warmth) increase sea levels and can even lead to more powerful and dangerous storms. The increase in CO2 in the water causes ocean acidification as well.

The ocean warming directly affects coral reefs through their symbiotic relationship with algae. The algae lives within the coral polyps, photosynthesizing and sharing energy with the coral. The easy access to sunlight coral provides is important to the algae. However, when the water gets too warm and too acidic, the algae gets expelled from the polyps. The coral then loses color as their skeletons, which cannot endure ecological changes, are exposed. This is coral bleaching.

Bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

The coral bleaching is a direct result of our rapid consumption of resources and production of greenhouse gases. A simple, small cutback on this consumption could solve so many of the earth’s growing problems. Turn off the lights. Use less water. Eat less red meat. Walk or bike instead of drive, just once a week. Small changes that affect the entire planet. The reefs are not only food for marine life, but they protect coastlines from flood/storm damage and provide employment for thousands. It doesn’t just affect wildlife. It directly affects a human’s quality of life. If you don’t do it for the environment, do it for the people.

Beetle and Bacteria are Best of Friends

The thistle tortoise beetle, a type of insect native to Eurasia, has, astonishingly, the ability to break down pectin.  Pectin is a polysaccharide that makes up plant cell walls that is undigestable to most animals due to its structure.  The tortoise beetle, a leaf-eater, has developed a symbiotic relationship with a certain bacteria that can break down pectin, allowing the leaf-munching insects to chow away.

Thistle Tortoise Beetle

Hassan Salem, the lead author of the study, became interested in how the small insects had the ability to gain nutrients from plant cell walls.  Salem looked in the gut of the beetle and noticed a certain bacteria with the genes to create enzymes that allow pectin and other tough molecules to be broken down in the beetle, where the beetle’s digestive tract can then absorb the nutrients.  What makes the bacteria interesting is that it contains significantly fewer DNA base pairs in its genome.  A typical bacteria has millions of DNA base pairs while this bacteria only has around 270,000 DNA base pairs.

Thistle Tortoise Beetle on a leaf

The bacteria has developed such an advantageous symbiotic relationship with the thistle tortoise beetle that it doesn’t require an abundance of DNA base pairs.  The strain of bacterium is more similar to that of “intracellular bacteria and organelles than to free-living bacteria” (Clark).  The bacteria is so important to the survival of the beetle that female beetles insert a portion of their own bacteria into each egg so that the unhatched insects can create their own colonies.  Salem named the bacteria Candidatus Stammera capleta.

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