Coral reefs are important for more than their beauty. They contribute to the fishing and tourism industries, support the livelihoods of millions of people through jobs, help scientists develop drugs for the treatment of cancers and arthritis, and are home to 25% of marine life. the the ocean absorbed 29% of excess carbon dioxide emissions and coral reefs absorbed most of it, playing an important role in removing carbon dioxide from our atmosphere.
But corals are threatened by pollution, climate change, and other human and environmental impacts. And global warming, accelerated urbanization of coastal areas and coral bleaching – among other threats – are driving the decline and extinction of the world’s coral reefs.
Scientists from four major Israeli universities have found an innovative way to combine technology and science to help preserve coral reefs. In a joint research project, researchers from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Bar Ilan University, Tel Aviv University and Haifa University have developed a novel 3D printing method based on the natural structure of coral reefs off the southern coastal city of Eilat.
The joint research was led by Professor Oren Levy and Ph.D. student Natalie Levy, from the Mina and Everard Goodman School of Life Sciences at Bar-Ilan University, Professor Ezri Tarazi and Ph.D .student Ofer Berman, from the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism of the Technion, Prof. Tali Treibitz and Ph.D. student Matan Yuval from Haifa University and Professor Yossi Loya from Tel Aviv University.
An article on their method and results was published in the journal Total Environmental Science. While the method was based on coral near the coast of Eilat, the model is adaptable to other marine environments, according to a statement from the universities.
“What’s really interesting about this study is that it’s kind of a combination of three different types of technology,” said Natalie Levy, a PhD student in Professor Oren Levy’s Marine Molecular Ecology Laboratory. at Bar-Ilan University.
The process combines 3D scanning algorithms, with environmental DNA sampling and a 3D printing algorithm that allows detailed and precise examination of each reef’s data as well as adaptation of the printed model to a specific reef environment. Additionally, the data can be fed back into the algorithm to verify the level of effectiveness and efficiency of the design after its implementation, based on the information collected during the process. “
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“So you have 3D technology, which includes 3D printing, as well as 3D imaging and modeling. And then you have the kind of molecular look and molecular techniques, which aren’t very old, that’s a recent technology that can be used to simply take a sample of the environment, like water and structures and be able to figure out exactly what is growing or what is inhabiting the structures using environmental DNA.These three components have been combined into what we call a 3D interface, which is really just a platform or an algorithm of these different technologies. It’s called the 3D interface because the models we produce are 3D models of coral reefs.
The 3D process begins with scanning underwater photographs of coral reefs. From this visual information, a three-dimensional model of the reef is assembled with maximum precision. Thousands of images are photographed and sent to the lab to calculate the complex shape of the reef and how that shape promotes the evolution of reef species diversity.
“We have the idea that you can take data that you collect from a reef environment using photography, 3D imagery – and that’s basically where you take thousands of pictures of coral reefs, and you can produce an actual replicable 3D model of that exact reef with very fine precision and detail.And you can pull out the main features of that reef that you want to replicate and create an artificial reef for your model.So that can be the complexity of the reef, the shape, the design, all of those factors,” says Levy.
According to Levy, 3D printing and imaging can help researchers understand the kind of biodiversity – the kind of reef animals and corals – that this reef can support, which also helps them create an artificial structure or a model that they can relaunch with the other reefs.
“You extract this information and you apply molecular techniques to be able to use the environmental DNA. You can also take a sample of the environment from that reef to help understand the exact biodiversity present,” she adds.
The final step is the translation and production of a ceramic reef in 3D printing. Reefs are made of a unique ceramic that is naturally porous underwater and provides the most ideal building and restoration needs for the affected area, or for establishing a new reef structure as a base for the continuation of life.
Why make a 3D model of a coral reef?
There are several reasons why this method of making an artificial 3D model of a coral reef is so important, according to Levy. “On the one hand, when coral reefs degrade, they lose their structural complexity – the complexity of the reef decreases. So the coral can be reduced to rubble. You may have very little structure left. [Real] the corals do this kind of 3D shape and the complexity of the reef and the animals depend on it for food, hiding, everything. All of that structure is the life of the reef and a reef declines, you have reduced reef structure and you don’t have room for new corals to start regenerating the reef,” she explains, “So sometimes the reef needs a little help. And by printing the 3D models that are from the photographs, the 3D imagery, we can bring that complexity back to the reef, so we can provide the reef with a pristine foundation of the original reef or a nearby reef that will do just as well in its environment. »
There are various man-made structures placed underwater that are very large, but nothing researchers have seen yet is the exact model of the coral reef, Levy adds. It’s important that the model be as natural and holistic as possible because “we want natural processes to occur and we want the reef to naturally rebuild and colonize on the structure.”
“We’re just providing a bit of support to help the reefs rebuild and reform,” she adds.
According to Levy, the significance of the study is “that there are a lot of possibilities.”
“I think that’s why it’s exciting – there’s a lot you can do with the concept of being able to take data from a natural coral reef and being able to print a model,” she says, “You can do a lot with our technology. And I think that’s why there’s so much potential in it. explore and examine our technology and see how it can be applied to them. There’s a lot you can do. And I think that’s why it’s so versatile.