Rainbow coral – named as such because it glows all colours of the rainbow – could be used to help trace cancer cells, according to scientists.
The coral was discovered at depths of more than 160ft in the Red Sea, and it is believed that the pigments which create the colours could be used for new imaging tools for medical applications.
Jorg Wiedenmann, professor of biological oceanography and head of the University of Southampton’s coral reef laboratory, said: “These fluorescent pigments are proteins.
“When they are illuminated with blue or ultraviolet light, they give back light of longer wavelengths, such as reds or greens.
“Their optical properties potentially make them important tools for biomedical imaging applications, as their fluorescent glow can be used to highlight living cells or cellular structures of interest under the microscope.
“They could also be applied to track cancer cells or as tools to screen for new drugs.”
The research, conducted by Southampton and Tel Aviv Universities, was possible due to advances in technical diving allowing coral in deeper water to be explored.
Gal Eyal, PhD candidate at the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences, Israel, said: “Since only the blue parts of the sunlight penetrate to depths greater than 50 metres, we were not expecting to see any red colouration around.
“To our surprise, we found a number of corals showing an intense green or orange glow. This could only be due to the presence of fluorescent pigments.”
News of the findings have been published in research journal PLOS ONE.