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For the first time, scientists have witnessed coral cells enveloping dinoflagellates, single-celled, photosynthetic algae.
Scientists in Japan added individual cells cultured from the stony coral, Acropora tenuis, to Petri dishes and watched as they swallowed algal cells whole.
In the ocean, algae and coral forge a mutualistic partnership. Algae gain shelter, while coral gets sustenance by usurping some of the energy algae harvests from sunlight via photosynthesis.
The first-of-its-kind research — detailed Wednesday in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science — could help scientists better understand this symbiotic relationship and why it sometimes goes wrong.