Australian scientists have discovered a cluster of brilliant shallow-water corals that could help in the search for anti-cancer drugs and to understand global warming, a researcher said Saturday.

The vividly fluorescent cluster was found in waters off Lord Howe Island, 400 miles east of the Australian mainland, with some displaying rich reds that were difficult to find and in high demand for studies of cancer cells. The underwater buttresses and caverns are densely inhabited by hundreds of corals, all deeply pigmented by the most intense green, blue and many with red fluorescence.

These pigments are used to light up the workings of living cells and to study what goes wrong in cancer cells.

The gene producing the particular pigment — red, green, blue or yellow — would be attached to a molecule in both healthy and cancerous cells and would enable scientists to track cell growth and change using a special fluorescent-sensitive laser microscope.

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