Science news | Live immune cells in corals and sea anemones identified during the study

Florida [US], August 21 (ANI): In a recent study, scientists have identified specialized immune cells in cauliflower corals and sea anemone stars that can help fight infections.

The results, published in the journal Frontiers In Immunology, are important to better understand how reef-forming corals and other reef animals protect themselves from foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses in and around coral reefs.

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The study, entitled “Functional Characterization of Hexacorallia Phagocytic Cells”, was led by scientists from the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami (UM) and the Ben Gurion University of the Negev.

The researchers found that immune cells make up about three percent of the total cell population and that they have at least two populations of immune cells that perform unique digestive functions.

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“These results are important because they show that corals have the cellular abilities to fight infection and that they have unique cell types that were previously unknown,” said Nikki Traylor-Knowles, assistant professor of marine biology and ecology at UM Rosenstiel School and co-senior author of the study.

To uncover these specialized immune cells, the researchers exposed a cauliflower coral (Pocillopora damicornis) and a sea anemone (Nematostella vectensis) to foreign particles such as bacteria, fungal antigens and globules in the laboratory. They then used a technique called fluorescence-activated cell sorting to isolate different cell populations.

They found that specialized cells called phagocytic cells that gobble up foreign particles, while small, fluid-filled structures inside the cells called phagosomes, work to destroy the invaders as well as their own damaged cells.

The immune system of animals is an important protective defense reaction to recognize and destroy foreign substances in their tissues.

“We need to better understand how coral cells perform specialized functions, such as fighting infection, as the climate change crisis is dramatically reducing the global biomass and diversity of coral reefs around the world,” said Traylor-Knowles. “Our results can help develop diagnostic tools to assess coral health.”

Study authors include Nikki Traylor-Knowles, Grace Snyder, and Michael Connelly of UM Rosenstiel School; William Browne of the UM Department of Biology; Shir Eliachar, Shani Talice, Orly Gershoni-Yahalom, Uzi Hadad and Benyamin Rosental from Ben Gurion University of the Negev; Caroline Palmer from the University of Plymouth.

The study was supported by seed funding from the University of Miami Research Awards in Natural Sciences and Engineering, grants from the National Science Foundation-US-Israel Binational Science Foundation (NSF grant: 1951826, BSF grant: 2019647), the Israel Science Foundation, European Research Council and Human Frontiers Science Program. (ANI)

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