The finding is important because coral reefs are crucial sources of fisheries, aquaculture and storm protection for about 1 billion people worldwide, Stanford University scientists said.
"If we can find populations most likely to resist climate change and map them, then we can protect them," study co-author Stephen Palumbi said in a university release Tuesday. "It's of paramount importance because climate change is coming."
The researchers studied shallow-reef corals off Ofu Island in American Samoa, using DNA sequencing technology to determine how they survive waters that often get hotter than 90 degrees Fahrenheit during summer-time low tides.
"These technologies are usually applied to human genome screens and medical diagnoses, but we're now able to apply them to the most pressing questions in coral biology, like which genes might help corals survive extreme heat," Stanford researcher Daniel Barshis said.
The findings suggest DNA sequencing can offer broad insights into the differences that may allow some organisms to persist longer amid future changes to global climate, the researchers said.
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