Featured Stories | September 2, 2014

Corals, tiny engineers of their own homes

By Genevieve Wanucha

Corals are not passive organisms that rely on ocean currents as previously assumed; rather they are active engineers of their home environment. According to new research from Professor Roman Stocker’s Environmental Microfluidics Lab, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the cilia on the coral surface beat water into “violent” swirls that pull nutrients toward the coral, while evacuating toxic waste products, such as excess oxygen. The findings increase our understanding of how corals can respond to changing environmental conditions and fight disease.

Check out this video by MIT News, along with the companion feature story, Nature’s Tiny Engineers, and the BBC News coverage of this study, How corals stir up their world.

Through this line of work, researchers in the Stocker lab produced the photograph “Invisible Coral Flows,” which won first place in the photography category of the 2013 International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge, a competition held by National Science Foundation and AAAS. Read more in Oceans at MIT’s Stocker Lab’s Stunning Coral Wins A Prize.