FROM THE SCHOONER TO THE LABS OF MONACO
On June 27th in Nice, the Scientific Centre of Monaco, one of the main scientific partners of the Tara Pacific expedition, hosted 70 researchers involved in Tara’s new coral adventure. Every 3 to 4 months, all the scientists come together to present their research, pose their questions, and refine methods for using the future database of corals, bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms collected by Tara. This is the occasion to highlight the involvement of the Scientific Centre of Monaco (CSM) in the current expedition.
© F. Benzami / Fondation Tara Expéditions
THE CSM’S MOLECULAR, CELLULAR, PHYSIOLOGICAL AND MICROBIOLOGICAL APPROACH
Among the 70 researchers from 22 world-wide laboratories providing expertise to study this fabulous ecosystem and to establish an inventory for generations to come, CSM’s contribution is multi-faceted. For nearly 30 years, they have developed unique methods of culture in controlled conditions, and analytical tools for everything from genes to ecosystems. “Three of the species we culture are precisely those being studied by the Tara Pacific expedition. Analysis of their genomes, thanks to DNA sequencing done by the Genoscope, will serve as a reference for all the reefs studied throughout the course of the expedition. Our long experience can be beneficial to numerous laboratories”, explains Denis Allemand, director of the CSM.
© F. Benzami / Fondation Tara Expéditions
CORALS GO BACK IN TIME AND HISTORY OF THE OCEAN
With the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences (LSCE), the CSM will study the growth dynamics of reef-building corals and the evolution of environmental conditions over the past century, thanks to sample coring. Like trees, corals store important information about their environment in their skeleton. To read this information, a cylindrical core measuring up to 1 meter in length is taken from the skeleton of a massive coral colony. The core reveals about 100 years of oceanic history: water temperature, salinity, the reef ‘s exposure to sun and the pH of the water. The growth rate of the coral colony is determined by measuring “coral rings” (i.e thickness of the growth bands over time) and will indicate whether the growth rate is stable, increasing or decreasing.
ESTABLISHING THE HEALTH STATUS OF CORAL COLONIES USING BIOMARKERS
Living organisms facing stress (heat, pollution, etc.) evolve strategies to adapt and survive. At the cellular level, the response is through the activation of signals that induce a genetic modification. The CSM Department of Medical Biology, in collaboration with the Symbiosis team of the UMR Evolution (Paris, Seine) will analyze the nature and intensity of these intracellular signals. This data will be correlated with the environmental conditions recorded at the time of collection and will serve as biomarkers of coral health status. The researchers will be able to analyze several molecular markers and biological processes in response to environmental stresses that have never before been studied in corals.
HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco, visiting the Consortium, alongside Prof. Patrick Rampal (president of the CSM), Romain Troublé, Serge Planes, Denis Allemand. © Claudia Albuquerque
FROM CORAL TO HUMAN HEALTH: A VALUABLE MODEL TO BETTER UNDERSTAND AGING AND ITS PATHOLOGIES
Corals offer a particularly interesting field of research for studying aging and age-related pathologies because these animals combine extreme longevity with an extraordinary capacity for tissue regeneration and resistance to stress. The ends of chromosomes — also called telomeres — play a key role in the normal and pathological aging of many organisms including the human species. Their roles in adaptability and extreme coral longevity are still unknown.
Researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research and Aging in Nice (IRCAN) will try to understand whether telomeric variations of coral are linked to environmental changes and whether or not they depend on the richness of biodiversity observed in their ecosystem or “microbial universe” (microbiota).
This research will also reveal new biological mechanisms controlling stress resistance, and perhaps be able to translate them into human medicine to prevent and treat age-related diseases such as cancers, diabetes, neurodegenerative and cardiovascular illnesses.
At the end of the TARA PACIFIC meeting, the CSM laboratories were presented to the scientists. © Claudia Albuquerque