KT Cooper is a PhD student in the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol. A carbonate geochemist by training, here she dives into the world of corals.
Coral is misunderstood. It may look like a beautiful underwater plant, and for a long time it was thought to be one, but is in fact an invertebrate. The coral structures are colonies made up of individual small polyps. These produce an exoskeleton made up of calcium carbonate, which helps to preserve them in life and also in the fossil record.
Another misunderstanding about corals is that, on the whole, they are passive creatures obtaining their nutrients from the ambient flow of the oceans. Recent research at MIT and the Weismann Institute of Science (WIS) suggests otherwise. They have found that the external cilia (small threadlike appendages similar to those found inside a human lung) of the coral generate eddy currents which draw nutrients to, and potentially waste produce away, from the colonies. Using powerful microscopes and high-speed video equipment they have managed to capture this unexpected behavior on film.
This research maybe an insight into how these tiny creatures have managed to survive, and thrive, so efficiently in the changing ocean environments as well as allowing scientists to visualize cilia-related processes that occur hidden from view inside organisms.