Molecular tools for coral reef restoration: Beyond biomarker discovery

John Everett Parkinson, Andrew C. Baker, Iliana B. Baums, Sarah W. Davies, Andréa G. Grottoli, Sheila A. Kitchen, Mikhail V. Matz, Margaret W. Miller, Andrew A. Shantz, Carly D. Kenkel

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


As coral reefs continue to decline due to climate change and other stressors, scientists have proposed adopting genomic tools, such as biomarkers, to aid in the conservation and restoration of these threatened ecosystems. Biomarkers are easily measured indicators of biological processes that can be used to predict or diagnose health, resilience, and other key performance metrics. The ultimate goal of developing biomarkers is to determine the conservation value and utility of a given coral colony, including the host animal, its algal symbionts, and their microbial partners. However, this goal remains distant because most efforts have not yet moved beyond the initial discovery phase. We review recent progress in the development of coral molecular biomarkers from a practical standpoint and consider the many challenges that remain as roadblocks to large-scale implementation. We caution practitioners that, while biomarkers are a promising technology, they are unlikely to be available for field application in the near future barring a rapid shift in research focus from discovery to subsequent validation and field trials. To facilitate such a shift, we propose a stepwise framework to guide additional study in this area, with the aim of accelerating practical molecular biomarker development to enhance coral restoration practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12687
JournalConservation Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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