Warming oceans might be bleaching the color out of corals, but for some, it's not as bad as it looks. New research suggests they have ways to cope with the heat — by making changes we can't even see.
When researchers dunked corals in warm water in the lab, they found at least some species changed how their cells behaved.
Some parts of their cells are especially sensitive to changes in heat and other outside stresses. This hot-water response is extra regulation to make sure the cell keeps up healthy activity. Think of it as cellular quality control.
A lot of other organisms do something like this — that's everything from yeast to invertebrate worms to humans and other mammals. If their cells detect inflammation, too much heat or not enough oxygen, they pay closer attention to how they're running.
If the extreme conditions last too long or get too severe, cells will self-destruct. It's better to lose a few unhealthy cells than to risk them affecting the whole organism.
And as long as conditions aren't too hot for too long, stress responses like these can help an organism live longer. Corals that deal with warmer waters in the short term could become hardier.