Young corals studied using dental scanners

(ORDO NEWS) — Coral polyps are the basis of reef ecosystems, as well as very sensitive animals. To study their internal structure and development, biologists for the first time used 3D scanners, which they borrowed from dentists.

Coral reefs are unique marine ecosystems, an important participant in global cycles and home to many unique creatures. At the same time, reefs are extremely sensitive to changes in the environment, such as oxygen content or acidity .

That is why it is important to study coral polyps – animals of the cnidarian type, which have a carbonate skeleton and are the basis of reefs. Of particular interest are the first stages of their life, when these creatures are especially sensitive.

Dr Kate Quigley of the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences is into corals and has recently come up with an ingenious way to explore their development and structure. Oddly enough, she was inspired by a visit to the dentist.

“Once I was at the dentist, they moved one of the new scanners to me. I immediately realized that it can be used to scan very small corals, because they and our teeth are similar in many ways. Everything else is history, ”the doctor shared.

Young corals studied using dental scanners
Images of various corals shown in the article

At the heart of the teeth, as well as the external skeleton of most polyps, are calcium salts. In the first case, these are phosphates, and in the second, carbonates, but the difference does not prevent a new use of dental instruments.

Devices based on laser confocal microscopy have recently been created and now help doctors to recognize the structure of a patient’s tooth with an accuracy of microns. This allows you to judge the internal defects of the teeth and create prostheses.

Of course, young corals can be much more complex than a decayed molar . However, the device copes with this successfully: the authors of the study showed that it is equally suitable for corals of different shapes and from different systematic groups.

Because the scanner is designed for use in the oral cavity and does not damage tissue, it is ideal for examining living specimens. It takes less than three minutes to image and reconstruct the three-dimensional shape of the animals, a hundred times faster than the previously used technique.

As a result, oceanographers will be able to examine hundreds of corals and receive detailed information about the state of the reefs. They hope that soon the scanner will also be able to be made waterproof – then the animals will not even need to be removed from the water.

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