How do corals make rocks?

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 10:50 AM
Paul G Falkowski1, Tali Mass2, Jeana Drake2, Morgan F Schaller3, Yair Rosenthal1, Oscar Schofield2 and Robert M Sherrell4, (1)Rutgers Univ, New Brunswick, NJ, United States, (2)Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, United States, (3)Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ, United States, (4)Rutgers Univ, Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, New Brunswick, NJ, United States
We have developed a three pronged approach to understanding how corals precipitate aragonite crystals and contain proxy biogeochemical information. Using proteomic and genomic approaches, we have identified 35 proteins in coral skeletons. Among these are a series of coral acidic proteins (CARPs). Based on their gene sequences, we cloned a subset of these proteins and purified them. Each of the proteins precipitate aragonite in vitro in unamended seawater. Antibodies raised against these proteins react with individual crystals of the native coral, clearly revealing that they are part of a biomineral structure. Based on the primary structure of the proteins we have developed a model of the precipitation reaction that focuses on a Lewis acid displacement of protons from bicarbonate anions by calcium ligated to the carboxyl groups on the CARPs. The reactions are highly acidic and are not manifestly influenced by pH above ca. 6. These results suggest that corals will maintain the ability to calcify in the coming centuries, despite acidification of the oceans.