20 December, 2021
King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) recently announced the inauguration of the world's first coral probiotics village in the Red Sea. The village, located around 20 km off the campus shores, is part of the University's Red Sea Research Center (RSRC) efforts and approach to coral preservation and restoration. The inaugural featured an underwater ribbon-cutting ceremony and was attended by representatives from KAUST leadership, RSRC researchers and students, as well as members from the community.
Professor Donal Bradley, KAUST Vice President for Research, said, "The Red Sea is key to the Kingdom's economic diversification plans at NEOM, Amaala and in the Al Wajh lagoon. It is also KAUST's biggest research asset and our faculty and facilities are uniquely positioned to help unlock and understand the Red Sea from the fascinating geology and extremophile inhabitants of its deeps, through its iconic megafauna and blue carbon sinks, to the coastal regions that are the focus for increasing development.
"The accompanying science and engineering challenges draw together expertise from earth sciences, marine ecology, multiple technology platforms and from data analysis, and they focus, for example, on the habitat preservation and restoration that the world's coral reefs need in order to be long-term sustainable. In particular, our Coral Village Probiotics project will seek novel solutions to help protect and enhance coral reefs wherever they are found, in the Red Sea and across the rest of the globe."
The use of Beneficial Microorganisms for Corals (BMCs) as coral probiotics is one of several new methods being explored for reef conservation, restoration and rehabilitation. Raquel Peixoto, associate professor of marine science at KAUST, said, "Our group has proposed and proven the concept that beneficial microbes associated with corals can mitigate the impacts caused by thermal stress and pathogens and even prevent coral mortality, creating a roadmap for a new field of research on customized medicine for corals."
"The coral village is a perfect place for innovative research to be developed towards protecting coral reefs. It has been closely monitored and it presents all the natural conditions necessary for such researches," added Peixoto. "I'm very optimistic that with the KAUST Coral Probiotics village established and all the bright minds working together, we'd actually develop the solutions that will make a difference in the real world."
Raquel and her team are building a repository of characterized microorganisms collected from different marine environments of the Red Sea, which is a unique environment and very important source of microbial diversity. This microbial collection will represent a biobank of different marine microorganisms with the potential to be used as mitigators of environmental stress, aquaculture probiotics, agents for environmental restoration and rehabilitation, among others.
Dr. Rusty Brainard, courtesy professor of marine science at KAUST and Chief Environmental Sustainability Officer at The Red Sea Development Company (TRSDC), said, "Corals globally are in severe decline. They have declined about 50% over the last 50 years, and projections suggest a continued decline as a result of climate change and ocean warming. The coral probiotics village is a very exciting experiment and a promising one, especially for us at the TRSDC and AMAALA, where we are ambitiously trying to increase the amount of corals by 30% over the vast area of the Special Economic Zone by 2040 - way beyond what has been achieved anywhere else."
The "Red Sea Research Center Coral Probiotics Village" (CPV) is a permanent natural laboratory designed and established to develop coral reef-related research. The project is funded by the University's Office of the Vice President for Research through the Red Sea Research Center Competitive Funding (CCF) for coral probiotics. It is led by Raquel Peixoto and a team of co-PIs and collaborators, such as Michael Berumen, Francesca Benzoni, Manuel Aranda, Susana Carvalho, Neus Garcia-Bonnet and Helena Villela. In addition to other KAUST researchers from different academic fields, they are developing parallel research projects at this natural laboratory.