London, June 25 (IANS) Glowing coral that displays a surprising array of colours has been discovered in the deep water reefs of the Red Sea, says a new study by Israeli researchers.
The Israeli team studied corals at depths of more than 50 metres and found that many of them glow brightly with fluorescent colours, ranging from green over yellow to red.
Encountering such a rainbow of coral colours in deep waters was unexpected, since their shallow-water counterparts in the same reef contain only green fluorescent pigments.
“Since only the blue parts of the sunlight penetrate to depths greater than 50 metres, we were not expecting to see any red colouration around,” said Gal Eyal from the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences (IUI), near Eilat in Israel.
“To our surprise, we found a number of corals showing an intense green or orange glow. This could only be due to the presence of fluorescent pigments,” Eyal said.
“These fluorescent pigments are proteins. When they are illuminated with blue or ultraviolet light, they give back light of longer wavelengths, such as reds or greens,” said Jorg Wiedenmann, professor at the University of Southampton.
The researchers hope that some of the coral pigments could be developed into new imaging tools for medical applications.
“Their optical properties potentially make them important tools for biomedical imaging applications, as their fluorescent glow can be used to highlight living cells or cellular structures of interest under the microscope. They could also be applied to track cancer cells or as tools to screen for new drugs,” Wiedenmann said.
The findings appeared online in the journal PLOS ONE.