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2010 Deep Sea Coral Cruise - east coast
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Mission Log: Apr. 11, 2010

Why take genetic samples of Coral?
By Marion Beal
Hollings Marine Laboratory, NOAA

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While we are out here exploring the deep corals off of the coasts Georgia and South Carolina, we will try to take samples of the corals that we can use for genetic analyses. It is difficult to observe and collect deep coral, so we try to gather as much information as possible when we have the opportunity. DNA extracted from the samples will hopefully provide clues about the diversity of the deep corals found in this area. We are also interested in how closely related these colonies are to deep corals found in other areas. Several of the deep coral species that we see here are also found throughout the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Are they the same populations? How diverse are the populations?

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Corals have the ability to reproduce sexually by spawning their gametes or larvae into the ocean currents or clonally by fragmentation. Sexual reproduction introduces genetic variation and allows for gene flow between populations, while colonial clones from fragments may be genetically isolated from other populations. Variability in the sequence of base pairs in the DNA molecule allows us to identify genetic differences that may accumulate between individuals and populations, and to define the historical or evolutionary relationships based on these traits. This method can also help us understand how far the larvae of various species can travel to colonize new areas and introduce genetic variation to the area.

Species diversity and genetic diversity within those species is usually an advantage to populations that experience new challenges within their environment. The advantage is adaptability to new situations such as disease or temperature changes. Hopefully, somewhere in the populations are individuals that can adapt to these changes and reproduce.

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