Seafloor Microscope Zooms Tiniest Bits of Coral
About 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is water-covered. It consists of oceans and sea which have Coral reefs which can extend over 1,000 miles. These corals are made by small coral polyps which are as small as one-sixteenth of an inch.
While working in the lab of Jules S Jaffe at Scripps Institution of Oceanography Mr Mullen, Tali Treibitz and other American and Israeli scientists built a new microscope to study corals in nature. Dr Treibitz, now running a lab at the University of Haifa.
Andrew D. Mullen a graduate student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego states – “ The creatures don’t move about as adults. They are like upside down jelly fish stuck to a rock”
Nature Communications reported as it being the first microscope made for use on the sea floor that is powerful enough to show details, almost as small as one micron, of living corals in their natural state.
The system will be helpful to the divers. They can use the system which consists of flexible lens to focus on the corals. This is done without disturbing the coral as the system can be placed a couple of inches away from them.
The microscope will be of great help in studying corals closely in their living environment. It will also enable researchers to study what happens during coral bleaching and its aftermath.
Corals are animals that contain single cell organisms called zooxanthellae. This cell can photosynthesize, enabling the coral to share energy captured directly from the sun.
Coral bleaching happens when warm temperatures cause the polyps to expel the zooxanthellae. This makes the Corals colourless. The Corals are under attack in this weak state as the reefs are often colonized by algae. The Microscope is so powerful that it can show individual zooxanthellae, about 10 microns, or one-tenth the width of a human hair, in the polyps. Making it possible to see what is actually show how it happens.
The scientist conducted a trial run of the microscope in the Red Sea and recorded a video of corals in conflict. They gather and moved a loose block of coral broken off and was lying on the seafloor. Later this block was placed next to coral of a different species. In the speedup video, we can see the polyps of one species engaging the others by extending their digestive systems like an attacking amoeba to digest the invaders.
Apart from this, the scientist recorded friendly behaviour amongst the species in which the coral look as if they are kissing. Though in reality, they seem to be exchanging food- Mr Mullen said.