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Coral Could Prove A Lifesaver


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Coral could prove a lifesaver

CORALS may have as many as 20,000 to 25,000 genes - more than the human complement of 20,000 to 23,000.

And remarkably, although corals are distant from humans in evolutionary terms, they may have as many disease-fighting immune system genes as humans.

David Miller, of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies and the ARC Special Research Centre for the Molecular Genetics of Development, thinks some of these disease-fighting genes might have been pioneered by corals.

Professor Miller, based at James Cook University in Townsville, said it was a mystery why a simple creature should have such a huge genetic repertoire but scientists were excited by it because corals were near the root of the family tree of all living animals.

"We actually have quite a lot in common with corals, though it might not appear so," Professor Miller said.

"For example, we have been amazed at how many of the genes involved in innate immunity in man are present in coral and just how similar they are.

"The similarity of the coral and human innate immune repertoires implies that they may function in similar ways, so the hope is that we can apply what we know about human health to better understand coral disease," Professor Miller said.

"There may also be a direct payback, in the sense that, by exploring the ancestral immune genetic repertoire of corals and how it functions in a simple animal, we will gain new insights which will help in the battle against human disease."

Professor Miller said despite all that corals had to offer Australia, science and medicine, they remained genetically largely unexplored.

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