Things are not looking good for coral. Thanks to human-caused climate change, driven by the burning of fossil fuels, the marine invertebrates are turning white (or “bleaching”) en masse as they succumb to stress from the increasing heat. When they die, the rest of the underwater ecosystem often becomes devoid of life. In addition, corals are struggling from diminished access to nutrients and from the excess light shining on the reefs. Scientists have often concluded that these coral reefs are therefore doomed — although a new study suggests that we could avoid coral being bleached into oblivion with a little help from curcumin.
In a recent study in the scientific journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, Italian researchers developed an “underwater drug delivery system” at the Genoa Aquarium, studying how curcumin, an antioxidant that can be removed from a plant called turmeric, can significantly reduce coral bleaching. Perhaps just as importantly, the team developed a biodegradable biomaterial that can deliver curcumin molecules to the corals without damaging the surrounding areas of the reef ecosystem. Because curcumin is a natural product that easily breaks down, it is unlikely to have toxic off-target effects.
“For massive or encrusting coral growth forms, the application of film materials could be challenging, but antioxidants could be delivered using other platforms such as particles, fibers, or hydrogels,” the authors report, adding that “antioxidants such as curcumin can be a powerful tool for tackling coral bleaching.”