20 February 2024

Growing corals from individual cell lines


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Every nation has their own strength and limitations from socio-economic and geo-political background. Like in any other sectors, advancing strategies for universities should then also be based on their own strength rather than following what others are doing elsewhere.


There is ongoing interest in the usage of animal-derived stem cells and cell lines for research, experimentation and real-world applications. Research conducted on goat stem cells have demonstrated the potential of using goats as a model for hoofstock genetic engineering, as well as the possibility of utilizing stem cells in bone and cartilage repair. Another study demonstrates the potential of using in vitro cell lines to establish healthy coral growths, showing promising results.

Animal-derived cells have been gaining interest from scientists over the years, with the cells of different animal species being utilized in many important studies and experiments in various fields such medicine and genetic engineering.

Stem cells, in particular, have been the subject of many high-profile studies due to their vast medical potential. One such example are Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs); these cells are found in bone marrow and are vital for making repairing skeletal tissues such as cartilage and bone. MSCs are among the most well-studied adult stem cells due to their ease of culture ex vivo (outside of the living body) and their multipotentiality, as well as supportive functions in vivo (inside of the living body).

Though MSCs have been isolated and characterized from various species, they are poorly characterized in goats. This, in spite of goats being widely used as large animal models for bone tissue engineering due to possessing knee joints similar to that of humans.

Dr. Nuradilla with a coral sample in her lab

Dr. Nuradilla Mohamad Fauzi of the University of Malaya has made this the subject of one of her studies. During the study, Dr. Nuradilla had aimed to demonstrate the potential of using goats as a model for hoofstock and dairy-animal genetic engineering and the medical potential of stem cells, especially in the repair of broken bones and degrading cartilage.

Her experiment tested the characterization (osteogenic [bone formation], adipogenic [fat formation] and chondrogenic [cartilage formation]) of three lines of putative MSCs isolated from the bone marrow and adipose tissue of neonatal kid goats, drawing comparisons between MSC lines isolated from the same tissue type, lines isolated from different source tissues and fibroblasts (a cell commonly found in connective tissue) isolated from goat ear tissue.

The results showed that that adipose tissue-derived cells have a greater capacity for adipogenic differentiation compared to bone marrow-derived cells and fibroblasts. Additionally, the goat fibroblasts were not capable of osteogenesis or bone formation, further distinguishing them from MSCs.

Overall, Dr. Nuradilla’s study show that there can be significant differences between goat MSCs isolated from different tissues and from within the same tissue. Furthermore, as fibroblasts do not demonstrate differentiation potential at the same capacity as MSCs, they can be used as a more reliable method for distinguishing MSCs compared to cell surface marker expression.

In addition to animal stem cell research, there are also studies conducted on the usage of animal in vitro cell lines which have provided vital experimental systems for research in fields such as medical biology and pharmaceutical biology.

The primary reason for why such systems are used is because they provide unambiguous answers to biological questions at the single-cell level.

Though many in vitro systems have been successfully derived from mammals, the same could not be said about creating cell lines from marine invertebrates. This is largely due to cells dissociated from the tissues of marine invertebrates not being able to survive in seawater or in conventional culture mediums for mammalian cells.

This issue formed the basis of a study by Kawamura et al. that aimed to create cell line systems derived from coral, establishing healthy coral growths under artificial conditions. The goal of this study was to provide new, vital information for future projects regarding coral reef sustainability and restoration as well as a new method of artificially growing coral for revitalising damaged reefs.

Their study successfully dissociated or separated larvae from the Acropora tenuis coral into single cells via treating them with a tissue dissociation solution comprised of trypsin (a protein digesting enzyme), EDTA (Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, which binds and holds on to minerals and metals) and collagenase (an enzyme that breaks down damaged tissues within the skin).

Dr. Nuradilla scuba diving for her research.

The dissociated larvae were divided into brown-coloured, translucent and pale blue cells that are placed into separate culture mediums.

The findings showed that while the brown-coloured cells proliferated throughout the culture medium, the translucent and pale cells had decreased in number, one week after dissociation.

In addition to continuing to proliferate in clumps for more than 6 months, the brown-coloured cells also expressed specific sets of genes, suggesting the possibility of forming into different cell types and roles. Additionally, these cell properties were maintained stably throughout successive cell cultures.

These results confirm that successful establishment of a coral in vitro cell line is possible with the correct parameters.

Studies such as these two are vital to our understanding of animal cell biology and its potential applications for improving human health and restoring damaged ecosystems. More intensive research is, however, required in order to fully unlock the secrets behind the cell.

Clown fish and sea anemone off Pulau Rawa. Courtesy of Nuradilla Mohamad Fauzi


Kawamura, K., Nishitsuji, K., Shoguchi, E., Fujiwara, S., Satoh, N. (2021) Establishing Sustainable Cell Lines of a Coral, Acropora tenuis. Marine Biotechnology, 23, 373-388 (2021).


Mohamad-Fauzi, N., Ross, P.J., Maga, E.A., Murray, J.D. (2015) Impact of source tissue and ex vivo expansion on the characterization of goat mesenchymal stem cells. Journal of Animal Science and Biotechnology, 6(1)