The Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) and the University of Milano-Bicocca, in collaboration with the Genoa Aquarium, have recently published the paper “Biodegradable Zein-Based Biocomposite Films for Underwater Delivery of Curcumin Reduce Thermal Stress Effects in Corals” (DOI: 10.1021/acsami.3c01166), which points out the efficacy of curcumin, an antioxidant substance extracted from turmeric, in reducing coral bleaching, a phenomenon mainly caused by climate change.
To deliver the molecule without harming the marine environment, the two partners have developed a biodegradable biomaterial based on zein, a protein derived from corn. Tests carried out at Acquario di Genova have demonstrated significant efficacy in preventing coral bleaching. The overheating conditions of tropical seas were simulated by raising the water temperature up to 33°C: all the untreated corals were affected by bleaching, as would happen in nature, while all those treated with curcumin showed no signs.
Coral bleaching is a phenomenon that, in extreme events, causes the death of corals, with devastating consequences for coral reefs, the protection of coasts from natural disasters, and marine biodiversity. Most corals live in symbiosis with microscopic algae, essential for their survival and responsible for their brilliant colors. The continuous increase in seas and oceans’ temperatures due to climate change stops the relationship between these two organisms; when this happens, the coral turns white for the loss of algae, and risks starvation.