The Challenge With Grafted/Protein Infected Corals | Reef Builders

The Challenge With Grafted/Protein Infected Corals | Reef Builders

The reef aquarium hobby has always had some degree of obsession with any new or unique coral strains and varieties. It’s therefore no surprise that when reefers first started discovering irregular patches of color in SPS corals like Acros and Montis we inevitably became very curious about this phenomenon of protein infection that is colloquially referred to as ‘grafting’.

We’ve dabbled in many examples of corals with pigment grafting including the Green Jacket, A. suharsonoi, Splash Astreopora, and currently working with the high profile Rainbow Splice Acro and a unique bicolored colony of Hero coral. Needless to say we have more than our fair share of experience with GFP Infection in various groups of corals and after more than two decades since it was first documented, we are no longer that excited for (most) corals which exhibit this curiosity.

The reason for our excitement fizzling out is that the fluorescent protein infection is highly unpredictable and in most cases one color will always dominate the other one, resulting in a solidly colored coral colony. Sure you see these pictures and classic examples of a dramatically swirling grafted cap with a perfect ratio of two colors contrasting wildly but these examples are few and far between and invariably take a lot of ‘managing’ to encourage this kind of bicolored development in a single coral.

It’s precisely this variability that makes GFP infected corals exciting but it also means that there’s a wide range of values associated with certain strains like the Rainbow Splice Acropora. Everyone wants a frag of the ‘Splice with an even blend of both colors in the hopes of growing out a perfectly streaked specimen like the one we featured on video a couple months ago, but there’s still no guarantee of how the coral will grow.

One of the newest protein infected coral strains is the Slime Time Montipora digitata from Eye Catching Corals which is a red branching Monti with green fluorescent pigment (or maybe the other way around). We’ve tried growing out this bicolored SPS coral several times over the last couple of years and every time the colony grows mostly green branches  with a little bit of red pigment remaining at the base, just like the header image at the top of this article.

Short of constantly pruning back every green branch that grows out we don’t know what we can do to attain a single colony of digitata where the branches are 50/50 red or green, or better yet, an erratic mix of both pigments throughout each branch. If you’re really into it the GFP infection of corals can be an awesome and interesting aspect of biology to tinker with, experimenting with fragging and actually grafting pieces back together, but you shouldn’t pay a premium for these oddities unless you appreciate that the coral will probably become a solid color if left to develop unattended.

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