The mechanisms behind the transfer of molecules from the surrounding sea water to the site of coral calcification are not well understood, but are critical for understanding how coral reefs are formed. We conducted experiments with the fluorescent dye calcein, which binds to calcium and is incorporated into growing calcium carbonate crystals, to determine the permeability properties of coral cells and tissues to this molecule, and to determine how it is incorporated into the coral skeleton. We also compared rates of calcein incorporation with rates of calcification measured by the alkalinity anomaly technique. Finally, by an electrophysiological approach, we investigated the electrical resistance of coral tissues in order to better understand the role of tissues in ionic permeability. Our results show that (i) calcein passes through coral tissues by a paracellular pathway, (ii) intercellular junctions control and restrict the diffusion of molecules, (iii) intercellular junctions should have pores of a size higher than 13 Å and lower than 20 nm, and (iv) the resistance of the tissues owing to paracellular junctions has a value of 477 ± 21 Ohm cm(2). We discuss the implication of our results for the transport of calcium involved in the calcification process.
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