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A patch smart with the medicines to treat the corals

- The smart band-aids to treat the corals. That's right. Help these delicate marine organisms when they are affected by bacterial, viral or fungal as a result of damage caused by pollution, climate change and human activities. To develop them, and apply them with success, the Italian Institute of Technology (Iit) in collaboration with the MaRHE Center (Marine Research and High Education Center in the Maldives) of the University of Milan-Bicocca, which they published in Scientific Reports, a specific study.

The coral reefs represent a critical habitat for the marine ecosystem and the destruction of these environments due to pollution, climate change and other human activities, could have serious consequences at the global level. In the last 50 years, there has been a reduction in this ecosystem of 50%, with diseases caused by different pathogenic microorganisms, which represent one of the main causes of this decline. Diseases that may cause the death of these animals are over 40 and to date there are no interventions curative effective to prevent or treat them, seriously endangering the integrity of these habitats and the extraordinary biodiversity associated with it.

For this study were used corals belonging to the species Acropora muricata, coral builders typical of tropical seas, and entered by the Iucn (international Union for conservation of nature) among the species at risk of extinction. These organisms as a result of the stress of natural or anthropogenic origin can be damaged increasing the risk of direct infection with dangerous microorganisms, such as bacteria, protozoa, fungi and viruses, responsible for the onset of specific diseases potentially fatal.

researchers have developed a treatment with patches smart, fully biocompatible and biodegradable to be applied on the 'wounds' of the corals, which release in a controlled way, active principles (for example, antibiotics and anti-oxidants) and that allow for adhesion to the coral, healing him. The treatment consists in the application of a first patch that releases drugs directly into the wound of the coral, preventing the latter from being dispersed in the environment, and then seal the damaged part of the body with a second patch in order to halt the potential entry of further pathogens.

"This work represents an absolute novelty in the study and treatment of diseases of corals," explains Simone Montano a researcher of the political Science Department of the environment and of the earth (Disat), and of the MaRHE center of the Università degli studi di Milano-Bicocca - a today, to limit the impact of these diseases, the technique that is most commonly used is the partial or total removal of the colony, resulting in further damage to the communities of coral reefs. Thanks to this study you could cure directly on the spot the corals sick allowing conservation more effective one of the natural ecosystems in the most wonderful of our planet."

The patch is smart, project team Smart Materials Iit's, coming from technologies that have been designed for the care of wounds in the field hospital, proved to be an effective method both on the scale of medium-small - aquarium - potentially on a large scale, in the natural environment. The therapeutic effect of the patch has been tested, in fact for 10 days in laboratory environment and, subsequently, for a period of 4 months in the sea.

"The treatment will be able to load in the first patch specific medications depending on the type of infection, anti-bacterial, anti-protozoa and anti-fungal, so as to create a treatment ad-hoc for the specific infections of corals," says Marco Contardi researcher of the team Smart Materials Iit and first author of the study.

The results of this study suggest, for the first time, a technique for the care and recovery of organisms as delicate as the coral, but this technology would be applicable also for numerous other marine species that are subject to damage caused by human activities. The next steps of the research team will focus on the methods of application of the patches smart in nature and on a large scale, while in the short term, this therapeutic approach may already be used in the field of aquariology.

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