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A bleached coral

Friend and Foe

Superoxide, a natural toxin produced by all oxygen-breathing organisms, has long been vilified when it comes to coral health.  When stressed corals produce too much of this toxin in their cells, it can lead to bleaching and even death. But a new study by WHOI researchers found that superoxide can also play a positive role—it all depends on the location where it is produced. “When we measured superoxide concentrations at the surface of corals during a natural bleaching event, we saw a completely different dynamic,” says Colleen Hansel, a biogeochemist at WHOI. “It appears this ‘toxin’ may have provided a benefit to the corals, perhaps helping some species to resist bleaching.” (Photo by Amy Apprill, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution )

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