The reef builders

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Science  22 Mar 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6433, pp. 1264-1269
DOI: 10.1126/science.363.6433.1264

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As the world's coral reefs wither in the face of rising temperatures, scientists are working to give corals a genetic helping hand. Strategies considered radical and intrusive even 5 years ago are now the subject of ambitious research initiatives. Spearheaded by Australian scientist Madeleine van Oppen and the late U.S. scientist Ruth Gates, the work revolves around manipulating the genetics of coral, and the algae and bacteria that live inside coral. The goal is to find ways to tweak coral to help them resist bleaching—a potentially fatal condition triggered by underwater heat waves. The work has shown some promise in the lab and has begun to attract other scientists. But it is still in its infancy. It faces questions of whether it's technically feasible, and whether such genetic tinkering in a wild ecosystem might have unexpected consequences.