Innovation That Matters

| Photo source IIT/Università Milano-Bicocca

Using turmeric to protect coral reefs

Sustainability

One startup is using natural antioxidants to protect corals from bleaching caused by global warming

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Spotted: Coral reefs are essential ecosystems. They provide many marine life habitats – with a quarter of fish relying on healthy reefs – and protect coastlines from storms and erosion. But, climate change is putting reefs in danger. 

Healthy coral is home to algae, giving it a protected environment to live in as well as essential compounds it uses for photosynthesis. In return, the algae – called zooxanthellae – help remove waste products and provide oxygen and carbohydrates from photosynthesis to the coral. When coral becomes stressed, such as when the surrounding water heats up too much, it expels the algae from its tissues in a process called coral bleaching. Without zooxanthellae, coral becomes white and eventually dies.  

In cooperation with Genoa Aquarium in Italy, researchers at the Italian Institute of Technology and the University of Milan-Bicocca have recently published a study showing how curcumin, a natural antioxidant substance extracted from turmeric, can reduce coral bleaching. The study, with Marco Contardi as first author, showed how the group developed a biodegradable and water-soluble biomaterial containing curcumin, which can be used to protect the coral without causing damage to the surrounding marine environment. 

The main biomolecular reason for coral bleaching is the overproduction of free radicals, which leads to strong oxidative stress inside corals. This is why the team selected curcumin to combat it, as it is a powerful antioxidant, that can scavenge the free radicals and help the coral to survive the heat stress. When tested at the Genoa Aquarium, the researchers found that untreated corals were affected by bleaching in increased water temperatures, while those applied with curcumin remained unchanged. The researchers’ next goal is to scale up their technology. 

Given coral’s importance in the preservation of marine biodiversity, it’s unsurprising Springwise has spotted so many innovations in the archive working to protect them from climate change. One company creates bespoke coral reef replacements, and another leverages indigenous women’s knowledge to protect these vital ecosystems. 

Written By: Anam Alam

Website: iit.it

Contact: iit.it/marco-contardi

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