The Reef Recovery Initiative is using human fertility techniques to save endangered and threatened coral species around the world. With protocols similar to those found in human sperm banks, the Reef Recovery team has worked to develop techniques that allow us to freeze and bank coral sperm and stem cells, and in the future, possibly even adult coral fragments. Coral genetic material frozen in this way can be viable for hundreds of years. The frozen sperm can be used to generate new corals and to strengthen small populations by adding genetic diversity. Advances in human stem cell biology may one day allow the frozen stem cells to produce new adults.
In 2010 the first frozen Hawaiian Coral repository was created with sperm and stem cells from two species of corals from Kaneohe Bay.
Interns, Kelly Martorana and Malia Peresa help to create Hawaii’s first frozen coral repository. Photo by V. Carter.
Techniques developed working on healthy corals in Hawaii have been taken out into the field from Puerto Rico to Singapore and applied to more impacted corals around the world.
Coral sperm samples ready for freezing in our field-ready cyro-box. Photo by V. Carter.
Whenever the Reef Recovery team freezes sperm from a new coral species, sub-samples of that frozen sperm and thawed and tested on fresh coral eggs to ensure that the sperm will be viable when needed in the future.
Virginia Carter and Jason Acker assess fertilization rates of cryopreserved sperm from the endangered species, Acropora palmata or Elkhorn coral. Photo by M. Laterveer-Beer
Our work with SECORE in Puerto Rico has resulted in the banking of the endangered species, Acropora palmata or Elkhorn coral. In August 2011, we will travel to Belize to bank another endangered species, Acropra cervicornis or Staghorn coral. In November 2011, we will travel to Australia to begin training scientists there to start an Australian coral bank.
A dry shipper awaits samples of the endangered Elkhorn coral at our field site in Puerto Rico to be shipped to banks at the USDA National Animal Germplasm Program and Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo. Photo by M. Laterveer-Beer
The Reef Recovery team is in the initial stages of research to freeze adult coral polyps as well. While just in the preliminary stages, this work looks promising. Someday frozen coral banks may contain whole adult corals with no need for fertilization from gametes or differentiation from stem cells.
Adult coral fragments are inverted and immersed in a solution of cryoprotectant to test the toxicity of the solution to the coral. Photo by V. Carter.