A recent study at the Australian Institute of Marine Science has shown that some coral species are capable of being fragged (reproduced asexually when a fragment breaks off and starts a new, genetically identical clone) even in an embryonic stage. Saltwater aquarists have been fragging corals for years, however this latest discovery demonstrates that this remarkable reproductive strategy is present even in some coral embryos.
The scientists conducted the study by subjecting the embryos to turbulent water flows in order to simulate water movement that could be comparable to natural wave action at a reef. What they found is that the water movement actually fragmented the embryos. But that wasn’t enough to stop these evolutionary marvels. Fragmented and unfragmented coral embryos both settled out of the water column and created new colonies.
For me, this is just further evidence of how remarkably advanced these animals are. It always amazed me that tiny fragments of an adult specimen could be used to clone the mother colony, but it seems like another thing entirely that a small, newly fertilized embryo is also capable of the same Darwinian feat of survival. It just demonstrates that this ability to asexually reproduce by fragging is in the DNA at a cellular (or even sub-cellular) level.
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For more information about the scientific discovery about coral embryo fragments, read the Fragging Coral Embryos story