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Corals are the first animals to pass on mutations acquired as adults

By Michael Marshall

Elkhorn coral in the Caribbean

WaterFrame / Alamy

Corals have an evolutionary superpower. Adult corals can pass on mutations they have acquired over the course of their lives to their offspring, breaking the long-standing belief that no animals can pass such mutations on – although most cannot.

“Juvenile corals inherited mutations that were acquired during the life of their parents,” says Iliana Baums of Pennsylvania State University. “It has never been seen in animals, but it has been seen in plants.”

Corals belong to one of the oldest animal groups. They are similar to plants in many ways, for example, they spend most of their life …