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2.  Bacterial profiling of White Plague Disease in a comparative coral species framework 
The ISME Journal  2013;8(1):31-39.
Coral reefs are threatened throughout the world. A major factor contributing to their decline is outbreaks and propagation of coral diseases. Due to the complexity of coral-associated microbe communities, little is understood in terms of disease agents, hosts and vectors. It is known that compromised health in corals is correlated with shifts in bacterial assemblages colonizing coral mucus and tissue. However, general disease patterns remain, to a large extent, ambiguous as comparative studies over species, regions, or diseases are scarce. Here, we compare bacterial assemblages of samples from healthy (HH) colonies and such displaying signs of White Plague Disease (WPD) of two different coral species (Pavona duerdeni and Porites lutea) from the same reef in Koh Tao, Thailand, using 16S rRNA gene microarrays. In line with other studies, we found an increase of bacterial diversity in diseased (DD) corals, and a higher abundance of taxa from the families that include known coral pathogens (Alteromonadaceae, Rhodobacteraceae, Vibrionaceae). In our comparative framework analysis, we found differences in microbial assemblages between coral species and coral health states. Notably, patterns of bacterial community structures from HH and DD corals were maintained over species boundaries. Moreover, microbes that differentiated the two coral species did not overlap with microbes that were indicative of HH and DD corals. This suggests that while corals harbor distinct species-specific microbial assemblages, disease-specific bacterial abundance patterns exist that are maintained over coral species boundaries.
PMCID: PMC3869008  PMID: 23924783
16S rRNA gene microarray; Gulf of Thailand; Pavona duerdeni; Porites lutea; coral disease; White Plague Disease (WPD)
3.  Correction: In-situ Effects of Eutrophication and Overfishing on Physiology and Bacterial Diversity of the Red Sea Coral Acropora hemprichii 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):10.1371/annotation/be4a3168-5284-4083-b5ed-5cd0f4630823.
PMCID: PMC3829975  PMID: 24250775
4.  Long-Range Dispersal and High-Latitude Environments Influence the Population Structure of a “Stress-Tolerant” Dinoflagellate Endosymbiont 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e79208.
The migration and dispersal of stress-tolerant symbiotic dinoflagellates (genus Symbiodinium) may influence the response of symbiotic reef-building corals to a warming climate. We analyzed the genetic structure of the stress-tolerant endosymbiont, Symbiodinium glynni nomen nudum (ITS2 - D1), obtained from Pocillopora colonies that dominate eastern Pacific coral communities. Eleven microsatellite loci identified genotypically diverse populations with minimal genetic subdivision throughout the Eastern Tropical Pacific, encompassing 1000’s of square kilometers from mainland Mexico to the Galapagos Islands. The lack of population differentiation over these distances corresponds with extensive regional host connectivity and indicates that Pocillopora larvae, which maternally inherit their symbionts, aid in the dispersal of this symbiont. In contrast to its host, however, subtropical populations of S. glynni in the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez) were strongly differentiated from populations in tropical eastern Pacific. Selection pressures related to large seasonal fluctuations in temperature and irradiance likely explain this abrupt genetic discontinuity. We infer that S. glynni genotypes harbored by host larvae arriving from more southern locations are rapidly replaced by genotypes adapted to more temperate environments. The strong population structure of S. glynni corresponds with fluctuating environmental conditions and suggests that these genetically diverse populations have the potential to evolve rapidly to changing environments and reveals the importance of environmental extremes in driving microbial eukaryote (e.g., plankton) speciation in marine ecosystems.
PMCID: PMC3818422  PMID: 24223906
5.  The Microbiome of the Red Sea Coral Stylophora pistillata Is Dominated by Tissue-Associated Endozoicomonas Bacteria 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2013;79(15):4759-4762.
Endozoicomonas bacteria were found highly associated with the coral Stylophora pistillata, and these bacteria are also ubiquitously associated with diverse corals worldwide. Novel Endozoicomonas-specific probes revealed that Endozoicomonas bacteria were abundant in the endodermal tissues of S. pistillata and appear to have an intimate relationship with the coral.
PMCID: PMC3719505  PMID: 23709513
6.  In-situ Effects of Eutrophication and Overfishing on Physiology and Bacterial Diversity of the Red Sea Coral Acropora hemprichii 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(4):e62091.
Coral reefs of the Central Red Sea display a high degree of endemism, and are increasingly threatened by anthropogenic effects due to intense local coastal development measures. Overfishing and eutrophication are among the most significant local pressures on these reefs, but there is no information available about their potential effects on the associated microbial community. Therefore, we compared holobiont physiology and 16S-based bacterial communities of tissue and mucus of the hard coral Acropora hemprichii after 1 and 16 weeks of in-situ inorganic nutrient enrichment (via fertilizer diffusion) and/or herbivore exclusion (via caging) in an offshore reef of the Central Red Sea. Simulated eutrophication and/or overfishing treatments did not affect coral physiology with respect to coral respiration rates, chlorophyll a content, zooxanthellae abundance, or δ 15N isotopic signatures. The bacterial community of A. hemprichii was rich and uneven, and diversity increased over time in all treatments. While distinct bacterial species were identified as a consequence of eutrophication, overfishing, or both, two bacterial species that could be classified to the genus Endozoicomonas were consistently abundant and constituted two thirds of bacteria in the coral. Several nitrogen-fixing and denitrifying bacteria were found in the coral specimens that were exposed to experimentally increased nutrients. However, no particular bacterial species was consistently associated with the coral under a given treatment and the single effects of manipulated eutrophication and overfishing could not predict the combined effect. Our data underlines the importance of conducting field studies in a holobiont framework, taking both, physiological and molecular measures into account.
PMCID: PMC3632597  PMID: 23630625
7.  Evolutionary insights into scleractinian corals using comparative genomic hybridizations 
BMC Genomics  2012;13:501.
Coral reefs belong to the most ecologically and economically important ecosystems on our planet. Yet, they are under steady decline worldwide due to rising sea surface temperatures, disease, and pollution. Understanding the molecular impact of these stressors on different coral species is imperative in order to predict how coral populations will respond to this continued disturbance. The use of molecular tools such as microarrays has provided deep insight into the molecular stress response of corals. Here, we have performed comparative genomic hybridizations (CGH) with different coral species to an Acropora palmata microarray platform containing 13,546 cDNA clones in order to identify potentially rapidly evolving genes and to determine the suitability of existing microarray platforms for use in gene expression studies (via heterologous hybridization).
Our results showed that the current microarray platform for A. palmata is able to provide biological relevant information for a wide variety of coral species covering both the complex clade as well the robust clade. Analysis of the fraction of highly diverged genes showed a significantly higher amount of genes without annotation corroborating previous findings that point towards a higher rate of divergence for taxonomically restricted genes. Among the genes with annotation, we found many mitochondrial genes to be highly diverged in M. faveolata when compared to A. palmata, while the majority of nuclear encoded genes maintained an average divergence rate.
The use of present microarray platforms for transcriptional analyses in different coral species will greatly enhance the understanding of the molecular basis of stress and health and highlight evolutionary differences between scleractinian coral species. On a genomic basis, we show that cDNA arrays can be used to identify patterns of divergence. Mitochondrion-encoded genes seem to have diverged faster than nuclear encoded genes in robust corals. Accordingly, this needs to be taken into account when using mitochondrial markers for scleractinian phylogenies.
PMCID: PMC3469353  PMID: 22994626
Coral reefs; Comparative genomic hybridization (CGH); Microarray; Mitochondria; Evolution
8.  Symbiodinium Transcriptomes: Genome Insights into the Dinoflagellate Symbionts of Reef-Building Corals 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e35269.
Dinoflagellates are unicellular algae that are ubiquitously abundant in aquatic environments. Species of the genus Symbiodinium form symbiotic relationships with reef-building corals and other marine invertebrates. Despite their ecologic importance, little is known about the genetics of dinoflagellates in general and Symbiodinium in particular. Here, we used 454 sequencing to generate transcriptome data from two Symbiodinium species from different clades (clade A and clade B). With more than 56,000 assembled sequences per species, these data represent the largest transcriptomic resource for dinoflagellates to date. Our results corroborate previous observations that dinoflagellates possess the complete nucleosome machinery. We found a complete set of core histones as well as several H3 variants and H2A.Z in one species. Furthermore, transcriptome analysis points toward a low number of transcription factors in Symbiodinium spp. that also differ in the distribution of DNA-binding domains relative to other eukaryotes. In particular the cold shock domain was predominant among transcription factors. Additionally, we found a high number of antioxidative genes in comparison to non-symbiotic but evolutionary related organisms. These findings might be of relevance in the context of the role that Symbiodinium spp. play as coral symbionts.
Our data represent the most comprehensive dinoflagellate EST data set to date. This study provides a comprehensive resource to further analyze the genetic makeup, metabolic capacities, and gene repertoire of Symbiodinium and dinoflagellates. Overall, our findings indicate that Symbiodinium possesses some unique characteristics, in particular the transcriptional regulation in Symbiodinium may differ from the currently known mechanisms of eukaryotic gene regulation.
PMCID: PMC3329448  PMID: 22529998
9.  Small-Scale Heterogeneity in Deep-Sea Nematode Communities around Biogenic Structures 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(12):e29152.
The unexpected high species richness of deep-sea sediments gives rise to the questions, which processes produce and maintain diversity in the deep sea, and at what spatial scales do these processes operate? The idea of a small-scale habitat structure at the deep-sea floor provides the background for this study. At small scales biogenic structures create a heterogeneous environment that influences the structure of the surrounding communities and the dynamics of the meiobenthic populations. As an example for biogenic structures, small deep-sea sponges (Tentorium semisuberites Schmidt 1870) and their sedimentary environment were investigated for small-scale distribution patterns of benthic deep-sea nematodes. Sampling was carried out with the remotely operated vehicle Victor 6000 at the Arctic deep-sea observatory HAUSGARTEN. In order to investigate nematode community patterns sediment cores around three small sponges and corresponding control cores were analysed. A total of approx. 5800 nematodes were identified. The comparison of the nematode communities from sponge and control samples indicated an influence of the biogenic structure “sponge” on diversity patterns and habitat heterogeneity. The increased number of nematode species and functional groups found in the sediments around the sponges suggest that on a small scale the sponge acts as a gradient and creates a more divers habitat structure. The nematode community from the sponge sediments shows a greater taxonomic variance and species richness together with lower relative abundances of the species compared to those from control sediments. Obviously, the more homogeneous habitat conditions of the control sediments offer less micro-habitats than the sediments around the sponges. This seems to reduce the number of functional groups and species coexisting in the control sediments.
PMCID: PMC3247241  PMID: 22216193
10.  Rapid Evolution of Coral Proteins Responsible for Interaction with the Environment 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(5):e20392.
Corals worldwide are in decline due to climate change effects (e.g., rising seawater temperatures), pollution, and exploitation. The ability of corals to cope with these stressors in the long run depends on the evolvability of the underlying genetic networks and proteins, which remain largely unknown. A genome-wide scan for positively selected genes between related coral species can help to narrow down the search space considerably.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We screened a set of 2,604 putative orthologs from EST-based sequence datasets of the coral species Acropora millepora and Acropora palmata to determine the fraction and identity of proteins that may experience adaptive evolution. 7% of the orthologs show elevated rates of evolution. Taxonomically-restricted (i.e. lineage-specific) genes show a positive selection signature more frequently than genes that are found across many animal phyla. The class of proteins that displayed elevated evolutionary rates was significantly enriched for proteins involved in immunity and defense, reproduction, and sensory perception. We also found elevated rates of evolution in several other functional groups such as management of membrane vesicles, transmembrane transport of ions and organic molecules, cell adhesion, and oxidative stress response. Proteins in these processes might be related to the endosymbiotic relationship corals maintain with dinoflagellates in the genus Symbiodinium.
This study provides a birds-eye view of the processes potentially underlying coral adaptation, which will serve as a foundation for future work to elucidate the rates, patterns, and mechanisms of corals' evolutionary response to global climate change.
PMCID: PMC3102110  PMID: 21633702
11.  Unexpected complexity of the Reef-Building Coral Acropora millepora transcription factor network 
BMC Systems Biology  2011;5:58.
Coral reefs are disturbed on a global scale by environmental changes including rising sea surface temperatures and ocean acidification. Little is known about how corals respond or adapt to these environmental changes especially at the molecular level. This is mostly because of the paucity of genome-wide studies on corals and the application of systems approaches that incorporate the latter. Like in any other organism, the response of corals to stress is tightly controlled by the coordinated interplay of many transcription factors.
Here, we develop and apply a new system-wide approach in order to infer combinatorial transcription factor networks of the reef-building coral Acropora millepora. By integrating sequencing-derived transcriptome measurements, a network of physically interacting transcription factors, and phylogenetic network footprinting we were able to infer such a network. Analysis of the network across a phylogenetically broad sample of five species, including human, reveals that despite the apparent simplicity of corals, their transcription factors repertoire and interaction networks seem to be largely conserved. In addition, we were able to identify interactions among transcription factors that appear to be species-specific lending strength to the novel concept of "Taxonomically Restricted Interactions".
This study provides the first look at transcription factor networks in corals. We identified a transcription factor repertoire encoded by the coral genome and found consistencies of the domain architectures of transcription factors and conserved regulatory subnetworks across eumetazoan species, providing insight into how regulatory networks have evolved.
PMCID: PMC3096595  PMID: 21526989
12.  Environmental Barcoding: A Next-Generation Sequencing Approach for Biomonitoring Applications Using River Benthos 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(4):e17497.
Timely and accurate biodiversity analysis poses an ongoing challenge for the success of biomonitoring programs. Morphology-based identification of bioindicator taxa is time consuming, and rarely supports species-level resolution especially for immature life stages. Much work has been done in the past decade to develop alternative approaches for biodiversity analysis using DNA sequence-based approaches such as molecular phylogenetics and DNA barcoding. On-going assembly of DNA barcode reference libraries will provide the basis for a DNA-based identification system. The use of recently introduced next-generation sequencing (NGS) approaches in biodiversity science has the potential to further extend the application of DNA information for routine biomonitoring applications to an unprecedented scale. Here we demonstrate the feasibility of using 454 massively parallel pyrosequencing for species-level analysis of freshwater benthic macroinvertebrate taxa commonly used for biomonitoring. We designed our experiments in order to directly compare morphology-based, Sanger sequencing DNA barcoding, and next-generation environmental barcoding approaches. Our results show the ability of 454 pyrosequencing of mini-barcodes to accurately identify all species with more than 1% abundance in the pooled mixture. Although the approach failed to identify 6 rare species in the mixture, the presence of sequences from 9 species that were not represented by individuals in the mixture provides evidence that DNA based analysis may yet provide a valuable approach in finding rare species in bulk environmental samples. We further demonstrate the application of the environmental barcoding approach by comparing benthic macroinvertebrates from an urban region to those obtained from a conservation area. Although considerable effort will be required to robustly optimize NGS tools to identify species from bulk environmental samples, our results indicate the potential of an environmental barcoding approach for biomonitoring programs.
PMCID: PMC3076369  PMID: 21533287
13.  Identification of MicroRNAs in the Coral Stylophora pistillata 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e91101.
Coral reefs are major contributors to marine biodiversity. However, they are in rapid decline due to global environmental changes such as rising sea surface temperatures, ocean acidification, and pollution. Genomic and transcriptomic analyses have broadened our understanding of coral biology, but a study of the microRNA (miRNA) repertoire of corals is missing. miRNAs constitute a class of small non-coding RNAs of ∼22 nt in size that play crucial roles in development, metabolism, and stress response in plants and animals alike. In this study, we examined the coral Stylophora pistillata for the presence of miRNAs and the corresponding core protein machinery required for their processing and function. Based on small RNA sequencing, we present evidence for 31 bona fide microRNAs, 5 of which (miR-100, miR-2022, miR-2023, miR-2030, and miR-2036) are conserved in other metazoans. Homologues of Argonaute, Piwi, Dicer, Drosha, Pasha, and HEN1 were identified in the transcriptome of S. pistillata based on strong sequence conservation with known RNAi proteins, with additional support derived from phylogenetic trees. Examination of putative miRNA gene targets indicates potential roles in development, metabolism, immunity, and biomineralisation for several of the microRNAs. Here, we present first evidence of a functional RNAi machinery and five conserved miRNAs in S. pistillata, implying that miRNAs play a role in organismal biology of scleractinian corals. Analysis of predicted miRNA target genes in S. pistillata suggests potential roles of miRNAs in symbiosis and coral calcification. Given the importance of miRNAs in regulating gene expression in other metazoans, further expression analyses of small non-coding RNAs in transcriptional studies of corals should be informative about miRNA-affected processes and pathways.
PMCID: PMC3962355  PMID: 24658574
14.  Red Light Represses the Photophysiology of the Scleractinian Coral Stylophora pistillata 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e92781.
Light spectrum plays a key role in the biology of symbiotic corals, with blue light resulting in higher coral growth, zooxanthellae density, chlorophyll a content and photosynthesis rates as compared to red light. However, it is still unclear whether these physiological processes are blue-enhanced or red-repressed. This study investigated the individual and combined effects of blue and red light on the health, zooxanthellae density, photophysiology and colouration of the scleractinian coral Stylophora pistillata over 6 weeks. Coral fragments were exposed to blue, red, and combined 50/50% blue red light, at two irradiance levels (128 and 256 μmol m−2 s−1). Light spectrum affected the health/survival, zooxanthellae density, and NDVI (a proxy for chlorophyll a content) of S. pistillata. Blue light resulted in highest survival rates, whereas red light resulted in low survival at 256 μmol m−2 s−1. Blue light also resulted in higher zooxanthellae densities compared to red light at 256 μmol m−2 s−1, and a higher NDVI compared to red and combined blue red light. Overall, our results suggest that red light negatively affects the health, survival, symbiont density and NDVI of S. pistillata, with a dominance of red over blue light for NDVI.
PMCID: PMC3962463  PMID: 24658108
15.  Location-Specific Responses to Thermal Stress in Larvae of the Reef-Building Coral Montastraea faveolata 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(6):e11221.
The potential to adapt to a changing climate depends in part upon the standing genetic variation present in wild populations. In corals, the dispersive larval phase is particularly vulnerable to the effects of environmental stress. Larval survival and response to stress during dispersal and settlement will play a key role in the persistence of coral populations.
Methodology/Principal Findings
To test the hypothesis that larval transcription profiles reflect location-specific responses to thermal stress, symbiont-free gametes from three to four colonies of the scleractinian coral Montastraea faveolata were collected from Florida and Mexico, fertilized, and raised under mean and elevated (up 1 to 2°C above summer mean) temperatures. These locations have been shown to exchange larvae frequently enough to prevent significant differentiation of neutral loci. Differences among 1,310 unigenes were simultaneously characterized using custom cDNA microarrays, allowing investigation of gene expression patterns among larvae generated from wild populations under stress. Results show both conserved and location-specific variation in key processes including apoptosis, cell structuring, adhesion and development, energy and protein metabolism, and response to stress, in embryos of a reef-building coral.
These results provide first insights into location-specific variation in gene expression in the face of gene flow, and support the hypothesis that coral host genomes may house adaptive potential needed to deal with changing environmental conditions.
PMCID: PMC2890407  PMID: 20585643
16.  Effects of temperature on gene expression in embryos of the coral Montastraea faveolata 
BMC Genomics  2009;10:627.
Coral reefs are expected to be severely impacted by rising seawater temperatures associated with climate change. This study used cDNA microarrays to investigate transcriptional effects of thermal stress in embryos of the coral Montastraea faveolata. Embryos were exposed to 27.5°C, 29.0°C, and 31.5°C directly after fertilization. Differences in gene expression were measured after 12 and 48 hours.
Analysis of differentially expressed genes indicated that increased temperatures may lead to oxidative stress, apoptosis, and a structural reconfiguration of the cytoskeletal network. Metabolic processes were downregulated, and the action of histones and zinc finger-containing proteins may have played a role in the long-term regulation upon heat stress.
Embryos responded differently depending on exposure time and temperature level. Embryos showed expression of stress-related genes already at a temperature of 29.0°C, but seemed to be able to counteract the initial response over time. By contrast, embryos at 31.5°C displayed continuous expression of stress genes. The genes that played a role in the response to elevated temperatures consisted of both highly conserved and coral-specific genes. These genes might serve as a basis for research into coral-specific adaptations to stress responses and global climate change.
PMCID: PMC2807443  PMID: 20030803
17.  Identification and Gene Expression Analysis of a Taxonomically Restricted Cysteine-Rich Protein Family in Reef-Building Corals 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(3):e4865.
The amount of genomic sequence information continues to grow at an exponential rate, while the identification and characterization of genes without known homologs remains a major challenge. For non-model organisms with limited resources for manipulative studies, high-throughput transcriptomic data combined with bioinformatics methods provide a powerful approach to obtain initial insights into the function of unknown genes. In this study, we report the identification and characterization of a novel family of putatively secreted, small, cysteine-rich proteins herein named Small Cysteine-Rich Proteins (SCRiPs). Their discovery in expressed sequence tag (EST) libraries from the coral Montastraea faveolata required the performance of an iterative search strategy based on BLAST and Hidden-Markov-Model algorithms. While a discernible homolog could neither be identified in the genome of the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis, nor in a large EST dataset from the symbiotic sea anemone Aiptasia pallida, we identified SCRiP sequences in multiple scleractinian coral species. Therefore, we postulate that this gene family is an example of lineage-specific gene expansion in reef-building corals. Previously published gene expression microarray data suggest that a sub-group of SCRiPs is highly responsive to thermal stress. Furthermore, data from microarray experiments investigating developmental gene expression in the coral Acropora millepora suggest that different SCRiPs may play distinct roles in the development of corals. The function of these proteins remains to be elucidated, but our results from in silico, transcriptomic, and phylogenetic analyses provide initial insights into the evolution of SCRiPs, a novel, taxonomically restricted gene family that may be responsible for a lineage-specific trait in scleractinian corals.
PMCID: PMC2652719  PMID: 19283069
18.  Transcriptome Analysis of the Scleractinian Coral Stylophora pistillata 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e88615.
The principal architects of coral reefs are the scleractinian corals; these species are divided in two major clades referred to as “robust” and “complex” corals. Although the molecular diversity of the “complex” clade has received considerable attention, with several expressed sequence tag (EST) libraries and a complete genome sequence having been constructed, the “robust” corals have received far less attention, despite the fact that robust corals have been prominent focal points for ecological and physiological studies. Filling this gap affords important opportunities to extend these studies and to improve our understanding of the differences between the two major clades. Here, we present an EST library from Stylophora pistillata (Esper 1797) and systematically analyze the assembled transcripts compared to putative homologs from the complete proteomes of six well-characterized metazoans: Nematostella vectensis, Hydra magnipapillata, Caenorhabditis elegans, Drosophila melanogaster, Strongylocentrotus purpuratus, Ciona intestinalis and Homo sapiens. Furthermore, comparative analyses of the Stylophora pistillata ESTs were performed against several Cnidaria from the Scleractinia, Actiniaria and Hydrozoa, as well as against other stony corals separately. Functional characterization of S. pistillata transcripts into KOG/COG categories and further description of Wnt and bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) signaling pathways showed that the assembled EST library provides sufficient data and coverage. These features of this new library suggest considerable opportunities for extending our understanding of the molecular and physiological behavior of “robust” corals.
PMCID: PMC3923803  PMID: 24551124
19.  Characterization of the 18S rRNA Gene for Designing Universal Eukaryote Specific Primers 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e87624.
High throughput sequencing technology has great promise for biodiversity studies. However, an underlying assumption is that the primers used in these studies are universal for the prokaryotic or eukaryotic groups of interest. Full primer universality is difficult or impossible to achieve and studies using different primer sets make biodiversity comparisons problematic. The aim of this study was to design and optimize universal eukaryotic primers that could be used as a standard in future biodiversity studies. Using the alignment of all eukaryotic sequences from the publicly available SILVA database, we generated a full characterization of variable versus conserved regions in the 18S rRNA gene. All variable regions within this gene were analyzed and our results suggested that the V2, V4 and V9 regions were best suited for biodiversity assessments. Previously published universal eukaryotic primers as well as a number of self-designed primers were mapped to the alignment. Primer selection will depend on sequencing technology used, and this study focused on the 454 pyrosequencing GS FLX Titanium platform. The results generated a primer pair yielding theoretical matches to 80% of the eukaryotic and 0% of the prokaryotic sequences in the SILVA database. An empirical test of marine sediments using the AmpliconNoise pipeline for analysis of the high throughput sequencing data yielded amplification of sequences for 71% of all eukaryotic phyla with no isolation of prokaryotic sequences. To our knowledge this is the first characterization of the complete 18S rRNA gene using all eukaryotes present in the SILVA database, providing a robust test for universal eukaryotic primers. Since both in silico and empirical tests using high throughput sequencing retained high inclusion of eukaryotic phyla and exclusion of prokaryotes, we conclude that these primers are well suited for assessing eukaryote diversity, and can be used as a standard in biodiversity studies.
PMCID: PMC3917833  PMID: 24516555
20.  Bacterial Communities Associated with Porites White Patch Syndrome (PWPS) on Three Western Indian Ocean (WIO) Coral Reefs 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e83746.
The scleractinian coral Porites lutea, an important reef-building coral on western Indian Ocean reefs (WIO), is affected by a newly-reported white syndrome (WS) the Porites white patch syndrome (PWPS). Histopathology and culture-independent molecular techniques were used to characterise the microbial communities associated with this emerging disease. Microscopy showed extensive tissue fragmentation generally associated with ovoid basophilic bodies resembling bacterial aggregates. Results of 16S rRNA sequence analysis revealed a high variability between bacterial communities associated with PWPS-infected and healthy tissues in P. lutea, a pattern previously reported in other coral diseases such as black band disease (BBD), white band disease (WBD) and white plague diseases (WPD). Furthermore, substantial variations in bacterial communities were observed at the different sampling locations, suggesting that there is no strong bacterial association in Porites lutea on WIO reefs. Several sequences affiliated with potential pathogens belonging to the Vibrionaceae and Rhodobacteraceae were identified, mainly in PWPS-infected coral tissues. Among them, only two ribotypes affiliated to Shimia marina (NR043300.1) and Vibrio hepatarius (NR025575.1) were consistently found in diseased tissues from the three geographically distant sampling localities. The role of these bacterial species in PWPS needs to be tested experimentally.
PMCID: PMC3877091  PMID: 24391819
21.  Benthic Primary Production Budget of a Caribbean Reef Lagoon (Puerto Morelos, Mexico) 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e82923.
High photosynthetic benthic primary production (P) represents a key ecosystem service provided by tropical coral reef systems. However, benthic P budgets of specific ecosystem compartments such as macrophyte-dominated reef lagoons are still scarce. To address this, we quantified individual and lagoon-wide net (Pn) and gross (Pg) primary production by all dominant functional groups of benthic primary producers in a typical macrophyte-dominated Caribbean reef lagoon near Puerto Morelos (Mexico) via measurement of O2 fluxes in incubation experiments. The photosynthetically active 3D lagoon surface area was quantified using conversion factors to allow extrapolation to lagoon-wide P budgets. Findings revealed that lagoon 2D benthic cover was primarily composed of sand-associated microphytobenthos (40%), seagrasses (29%) and macroalgae (27%), while seagrasses dominated the lagoon 3D surface area (84%). Individual Pg was highest for macroalgae and scleractinian corals (87 and 86 mmol O2 m−2 specimen area d−1, respectively), however seagrasses contributed highest (59%) to the lagoon-wide Pg. Macroalgae exhibited highest individual Pn rates, but seagrasses generated the largest fraction (51%) of lagoon-wide Pn. Individual R was highest for scleractinian corals and macroalgae, whereas seagrasses again provided the major lagoon-wide share (68%). These findings characterise the investigated lagoon as a net autotrophic coral reef ecosystem compartment revealing similar P compared to other macrophyte-dominated coastal environments such as seagrass meadows and macroalgae beds. Further, high lagoon-wide P (Pg: 488 and Pn: 181 mmol O2 m−2 lagoon area d−1) and overall Pg:R (1.6) indicate substantial benthic excess production within the Puerto Morelos reef lagoon and suggest the export of newly synthesised organic matter to surrounding ecosystems.
PMCID: PMC3867400  PMID: 24367570
22.  Heat-Stress and Light-Stress Induce Different Cellular Pathologies in the Symbiotic Dinoflagellate during Coral Bleaching 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e77173.
Coral bleaching is a significant contributor to the worldwide degradation of coral reefs and is indicative of the termination of symbiosis between the coral host and its symbiotic algae (dinoflagellate; Symbiodinium sp. complex), usually by expulsion or xenophagy (symbiophagy) of its dinoflagellates. Herein, we provide evidence that during the earliest stages of environmentally induced bleaching, heat stress and light stress generate distinctly different pathomorphological changes in the chloroplasts, while a combined heat- and light-stress exposure induces both pathomorphologies; suggesting that these stressors act on the dinoflagellate by different mechanisms. Within the first 48 hours of a heat stress (32°C) under low-light conditions, heat stress induced decomposition of thylakoid structures before observation of extensive oxidative damage; thus it is the disorganization of the thylakoids that creates the conditions allowing photo-oxidative-stress. Conversely, during the first 48 hours of a light stress (2007 µmoles m−2 s−1 PAR) at 25°C, condensation or fusion of multiple thylakoid lamellae occurred coincidently with levels of oxidative damage products, implying that photo-oxidative stress causes the structural membrane damage within the chloroplasts. Exposure to combined heat- and light-stresses induced both pathomorphologies, confirming that these stressors acted on the dinoflagellate via different mechanisms. Within 72 hours of exposure to heat and/or light stresses, homeostatic processes (e.g., heat-shock protein and anti-oxidant enzyme response) were evident in the remaining intact dinoflagellates, regardless of the initiating stressor. Understanding the sequence of events during bleaching when triggered by different environmental stressors is important for predicting both severity and consequences of coral bleaching.
PMCID: PMC3851020  PMID: 24324575
23.  Integrating microRNA and mRNA expression profiling in Symbiodinium microadriaticum, a dinoflagellate symbiont of reef-building corals 
BMC Genomics  2013;14:704.
Animal and plant genomes produce numerous small RNAs (smRNAs) that regulate gene expression post-transcriptionally affecting metabolism, development, and epigenetic inheritance. In order to characterize the repertoire of endogenous smRNAs and potential gene targets in dinoflagellates, we conducted smRNA and mRNA expression profiling over 9 experimental treatments of cultures from Symbiodinium microadriaticum, a photosynthetic symbiont of scleractinian corals.
We identified a set of 21 novel smRNAs that share stringent key features with functional microRNAs from other model organisms. smRNAs were predicted independently over all 9 treatments and their putative gene targets were identified. We found 1,720 animal-like target sites in the 3'UTRs of 12,858 mRNAs and 19 plant-like target sites in 51,917 genes. We assembled a transcriptome of 58,649 genes and determined differentially expressed genes (DEGs) between treatments. Heat stress was found to produce a much larger number of DEGs than other treatments that yielded only few DEGs. Analysis of DEGs also revealed that minicircle-encoded photosynthesis proteins seem to be common targets of transcriptional regulation. Furthermore, we identified the core RNAi protein machinery in Symbiodinium.
Integration of smRNA and mRNA expression profiling identified a variety of processes that could be under microRNA control, e.g. protein modification, signaling, gene expression, and response to DNA damage. Given that Symbiodinium seems to have a paucity of transcription factors and differentially expressed genes, identification and characterization of its smRNA repertoire establishes the possibility of a range of gene regulatory mechanisms in dinoflagellates acting post-transcriptionally.
PMCID: PMC3853145  PMID: 24119094
Symbiodinium; Dinoflagellates; Scleractinian corals; Symbiont; Coral reef; Small RNA (smRNA); microRNA (miRNA); Small interfering RNA (siRNA); mRNA; Expression profiling; RNAseq
24.  Lock, Stock and Two Different Barrels: Comparing the Genetic Composition of Morphotypes of the Indo-Pacific Sponge Xestospongia testudinaria 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e74396.
The giant barrel sponge Xestospongiatestudinaria is an ecologically important species that is widely distributed across the Indo-Pacific. Little is known, however, about the precise biogeographic distribution and the amount of morphological and genetic variation in this species. Here we provide the first detailed, fine-scaled (<200 km2) study of the morphological and genetic composition of X. testudinaria around Lembeh Island, Indonesia. Two mitochondrial (CO1 and ATP6 genes) and one nuclear (ATP synthase β intron) DNA markers were used to assess genetic variation. We identified four distinct morphotypes of X. testudinaria around Lembeh Island. These morphotypes were genetically differentiated with both mitochondrial and nuclear markers. Our results indicate that giant barrel sponges around Lembeh Island, which were all morphologically identified as X. testudinaria, consist of at least two different lineages that appear to be reproductively isolated. The first lineage is represented by individuals with a digitate surface area, CO1 haplotype C5, and is most abundant around the harbor area of Bitung city. The second lineage is represented by individuals with a predominantly smooth surface area, CO1 haplotype C1 and can be found all around Lembeh Island, though to a lesser extent around the harbor of Bitung city. Our findings of two additional unique genetic lineages suggests the presence of an even broader species complex possibly containing more than two reproductively isolated species. The existence of X. testudinaria as a species complex is a surprising result given the size, abundance and conspicuousness of the sponge.
PMCID: PMC3771914  PMID: 24069308
25.  Comparison between Colony Morphology and Molecular Phylogeny in the Caribbean Scleractinian Coral Genus Madracis 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e71287.
A major challenge in coral biology is to find the most adequate and phylogenetically informative characters that allow for distinction of closely related coral species. Therefore, data on corallite morphology and genetic data are often combined to increase phylogenetic resolution. In this study, we address the question to which degree genetic data and quantitative information on overall coral colony morphologies identify similar groupings within closely related morphospecies of the Caribbean coral genus Madracis. Such comparison of phylogenies based on colony morphology and genetic data will also provide insight into the degree to which genotype and phenotype overlap. We have measured morphological features of three closely related Caribbean coral species of the genus Madracis (M. formosa, M. decactis and M. carmabi). Morphological differences were then compared with phylogenies of the same species based on two nuclear DNA markers, i.e. ATPSα and SRP54. Our analysis showed that phylogenetic trees based on (macroscopical) morphological properties and phylogenetic trees based on DNA markers ATPSα and SRP54 are partially similar indicating that morphological characteristics at the colony level provide another axis, in addition to commonly used features such as corallite morphology and ecological information, to delineate genetically different coral species. We discuss this new method that allows systematic quantitative comparison between morphological characteristics of entire colonies and genetic data.
PMCID: PMC3743869  PMID: 23967185

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