Coral diseases are characterized by microbial community shifts in coral mucus and tissue, but causes and consequences of these changes are vaguely understood due to the complexity and dynamics of coral-associated bacteria. We used 16S rRNA gene microarrays to assay differences in bacterial assemblages of healthy and diseased colonies displaying White Plague Disease (WPD) signs from two closely related Caribbean coral species, Orbicella faveolata and Orbicella franksi. Analysis of differentially abundant operational taxonomic units (OTUs) revealed strong differences between healthy and diseased specimens, but not between coral species. A subsequent comparison to data from two Indo-Pacific coral species (Pavona duerdeni and Porites lutea) revealed distinct microbial community patterns associated with ocean basin, coral species and health state. Coral species were clearly separated by site, but also, the relatedness of the underlying bacterial community structures resembled the phylogenetic relationship of the coral hosts. In diseased samples, bacterial richness increased and putatively opportunistic bacteria were consistently more abundant highlighting the role of opportunistic conditions in structuring microbial community patterns during disease. Our comparative analysis shows that it is possible to derive conserved bacterial footprints of diseased coral holobionts that might help in identifying key bacterial species related to the underlying etiopathology. Furthermore, our data demonstrate that similar-appearing disease phenotypes produce microbial community patterns that are consistent over coral species and oceans, irrespective of the putative underlying pathogen. Consequently, profiling coral diseases by microbial community structure over multiple coral species might allow the development of a comparative disease framework that can inform on cause and relatedness of coral diseases.
16S rRNA gene microarray; coral disease; microbial community; Orbicella faveolata; Orbicella franksi; Pavona duerdeni; Porites lutea; White Plague Disease (WPD); White Plague-like Disease; White Syndrome (WS)
The persistence of coral reef ecosystems relies on the symbiotic relationship between scleractinian corals and intracellular, photosynthetic dinoflagellates in the genus Symbiodinium. Genetic evidence indicates that these symbionts are biologically diverse and exhibit discrete patterns of environmental and host distribution. This makes the assessment of Symbiodinium diversity critical to understanding the symbiosis ecology of corals. Here, we applied pyrosequencing to the elucidation of Symbiodinium diversity via analysis of the internal transcribed spacer 2 (ITS2) region, a multicopy genetic marker commonly used to analyse Symbiodinium diversity. Replicated data generated from isoclonal Symbiodinium cultures showed that all genomes contained numerous, yet mostly rare, ITS2 sequence variants. Pyrosequencing data were consistent with more traditional denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) approaches to the screening of ITS2 PCR amplifications, where the most common sequences appeared as the most intense bands. Further, we developed an operational taxonomic unit (OTU)-based pipeline for Symbiodinium ITS2 diversity typing to provisionally resolve ecologically discrete entities from intragenomic variation. A genetic distance cut-off of 0.03 collapsed intragenomic ITS2 variants of isoclonal cultures into single OTUs. When applied to the analysis of field-collected coral samples, our analyses confirm that much of the commonly observed SymbiodiniumITS2 diversity can be attributed to intragenomic variation. We conclude that by analysing Symbiodinium populations in an OTU-based framework, we can improve objectivity, comparability and simplicity when assessing ITS2 diversity in field-based studies.
coral reefs; dinoflagellates; internal transcribed spacer 2; next-generation sequencing; operational taxonomic unit; Symbiodinium
Members of the genus Endozoicomonas associate with a wide range of marine organisms. Here, we report on the whole-genome sequencing, assembly, and annotation of three Endozoicomonas type strains. These data will assist in exploring interactions between Endozoicomonas organisms and their hosts, and it will aid in the assembly of genomes from uncultivated Endozoicomonas spp.
The presence of the cosmopolitan deep-sea coral Eguchipsammia fistula has recently been documented in the Red Sea, occurring in warm (>20 °C), oxygen- and nutrient-limited habitats. We collected colonies of this species from the central Red Sea that successfully resided in aquaria for more than one year. During this period the corals were exposed to increased oxygen levels and nutrition ad libitum unlike in their natural habitat. Specimens of long-term reared E. fistula colonies were incubated for 24 h and calcification (G) as well as respiration rates (R) were measured. In comparison to on-board measurements of G and R rates on freshly collected specimens, we found that G was increased while R was decreased. E. fistula shows extensive tissue growth and polyp proliferation in aquaculture and can be kept at conditions that notably differ from its natural habitat. Its ability to cope with rapid and prolonged changes in regard to prevailing environmental conditions indicates a wide physiological plasticity. This may explain in part the cosmopolitan distribution of this species and emphasizes its value as a deep-sea coral model to study mechanisms of acclimation and adaptation.
Coral reef; Red Sea; Coral rearing; Phenotypic plasticity; Eguchipsammia fistula; Deep-sea coral
In recent years, marine algae have emerged as a rich and promising source of molecules with potent activities against various human pathogens. The widely distributed brown alga Lobophora variegata that is often associated with tropical coral reefs exerts strong antibacterial and antiprotozoal effects, but so far has not been associated with specific anti-viral activities. This study investigated potential HIV-1 inhibitory activity of L. variegata collected from different geographical regions, using a cell-based full replication HIV-1 reporter assay. Aqueous L. variegata extracts showed strong inhibitory effects on several HIV-1 strains, including drug-resistant and primary HIV-1 isolates, and protected even primary cells (PBMC) from HIV-1-infection. Anti-viral potency was related to ecological factors and showed clear differences depending on light exposition or epiphyte growth. Assays addressing early events of the HIV-1 replication cycle indicated that L. variegata extracts inhibited entry of HIV-1 into cells at a pre-fusion step possibly by impeding mobility of virus particles. Further characterization of the aqueous extract demonstrated that even high doses had only moderate effects on viability of cultured and primary cells (PBMCs). Imaging-based techniques revealed extract effects on the plasma membrane and actin filaments as well as induction of apoptosis at concentrations exceeding EC50 of anti-HIV-1 activity by more than 400 fold. In summary, we show for the first time that L. variegata extracts inhibit HIV-1 entry, thereby suggesting this alga as promising source for the development of novel HIV-1 inhibitors.
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.
Algal symbionts (zooxanthellae, genus Symbiodinium) of scleractinian corals respond strongly to temperature, nutrient and light changes. These factors vary greatly along the north-south gradient in the Red Sea and include conditions, which are outside of those typically considered optimal for coral growth. Nevertheless, coral communities thrive throughout the Red Sea, suggesting that zooxanthellae have successfully acclimatized or adapted to the harsh conditions they experience particularly in the south (high temperatures and high nutrient supply). As such, the Red Sea is a region, which may help to better understand how zooxanthellae and their coral hosts successfully acclimatize or adapt to environmental change (e.g. increased temperatures and localized eutrophication). To gain further insight into the physiology of coral symbionts in the Red Sea, we examined the abundance of dominant Symbiodinium types associated with the coral Pocillopora verrucosa, and measured Symbiodinium physiological characteristics (i.e. photosynthetic processes, cell density, pigmentation, and protein composition) along the latitudinal gradient of the Red Sea in summer and winter. Despite the strong environmental gradients from north to south, our results demonstrate that Symbiodinium microadriaticum (type A1) was the predominant species in P. verrucosa along the latitudinal gradient. Furthermore, measured physiological characteristics were found to vary more with prevailing seasonal environmental conditions than with region-specific differences, although the measured environmental parameters displayed much higher spatial than temporal variability. We conclude that our findings might present the result of long-term acclimatization or adaptation of S. microadriaticum to regionally specific conditions within the Red Sea. Of additional note, high nutrients in the South correlated with high zooxanthellae density indicating a compensation for a temperature-driven loss of photosynthetic performance, which may prove promising for the resilience of these corals under increase of temperature increase and eutrophication.
Expert opinion was assessed to identify current knowledge gaps in determining future changes in Arabian/ Persian Gulf (thereafter ‘Gulf’) coral reefs. Thirty-one participants submitted 71 research questions that were peer-assessed in terms of scientific importance (i.e., filled a knowledge gap and was a research priority) and efficiency in resource use (i.e., was highly feasible and ecologically broad). Ten research questions, in six major research areas, were highly important for both understanding Gulf coral reef ecosystems and also an efficient use of limited research resources. These questions mirrored global evaluations of the importance of understanding and evaluating biodiversity, determining the potential impacts of climate change, the role of anthropogenic impacts in structuring coral reef communities, and economically evaluating coral reef communities. These questions provide guidance for future research on coral reef ecosystems within the Gulf, and enhance the potential for assessment and management of future changes in this globally significant region.
Persian Gulf; Arabian Gulf; Coral Reefs; Expert; Assessment; Research Gap
Genome-wide transcriptional changes in development provide important insight into mechanisms underlying growth, differentiation, and patterning. However, such large-scale developmental studies have been limited to a few representatives of Ecdysozoans and Chordates. Here, we characterize transcriptomes of embryonic, larval, and metamorphic development in the marine mollusc Aplysia californica and reveal novel molecular components associated with life history transitions. Specifically, we identify more than 20 signal peptides, putative hormones, and transcription factors in association with early development and metamorphic stages—many of which seem to be evolutionarily conserved elements of signal transduction pathways. We also characterize genes related to biomineralization—a critical process of molluscan development. In summary, our experiment provides the first large-scale survey of gene expression in mollusc development, and complements previous studies on the regulatory mechanisms underlying body plan patterning and the formation of larval and juvenile structures. This study serves as a resource for further functional annotation of transcripts and genes in Aplysia, specifically and molluscs in general. A comparison of the Aplysia developmental transcriptome with similar studies in the zebra fish Danio rerio, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, and other studies on molluscs suggests an overall highly divergent pattern of gene regulatory mechanisms that are likely a consequence of the different developmental modes of these organisms.
In the Central Red Sea, healthy coral reefs meet intense coastal development, but data on the effects of related stressors for reef functioning are lacking. This in situ study therefore investigated the independent and combined effects of simulated overfishing through predator/grazer exclusion and simulated eutrophication through fertilizer addition on settlement of reef associated invertebrates on light-exposed and -shaded tiles over 4 months. At the end of the study period invertebrates had almost exclusively colonized shaded tiles. Algae were superior settling competitors on light-exposed tiles. On the shaded tiles, simulated overfishing prevented settlement of hard corals, but significantly increased settlement of polychaetes, while simulated eutrophication only significantly decreased hard coral settlement relative to controls. The combined treatment significantly increased settlement of bryozoans and bivalves compared to controls and individual manipulations, but significantly decreased polychaetes compared to simulated overfishing. These results suggest settlement of polychaetes and hard corals as potential bioindicators for overfishing and eutrophication, respectively, and settlement of bivalves and bryozoans for a combination of both. Therefore, if the investigated stressors are not controlled, phase shifts from dominance by hard corals to that by other invertebrates may occur at shaded reef locations in the Central Red Sea.
Recruitment; Sessile invertebrates; Nutrient enrichment; Overfishing; Bioindicator; Settlement; Red Sea; Coral reefs; Saudi Arabia; Caging experiments
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.
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.
16S rRNA gene microarray; Gulf of Thailand; Pavona duerdeni; Porites lutea; coral disease; White Plague Disease (WPD)
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.
Symbiodinium; Dinoflagellates; Scleractinian corals; Symbiont; Coral reef; Small RNA (smRNA); microRNA (miRNA); Small interfering RNA (siRNA); mRNA; Expression profiling; RNAseq
Overfishing and land-derived eutrophication are major local threats to coral reefs and may affect benthic communities, moving them from coral dominated reefs to algal dominated ones. The Central Red Sea is a highly under-investigated area, where healthy coral reefs are contending against intense coastal development. This in-situ study investigated both the independent and combined effects of manipulated inorganic nutrient enrichment (simulation of eutrophication) and herbivore exclosure (simulation of overfishing) on benthic algae development. Light-exposed and shaded terracotta tiles were positioned at an offshore patch reef close to Thuwal, Saudi Arabia and sampled over a period of 4 months. Findings revealed that nutrient enrichment alone affected neither algal dry mass nor algae-derived C or N production. In contrast, herbivore exclusion significantly increased algal dry mass up to 300-fold, and in conjunction with nutrient enrichment, this total increased to 500-fold. Though the increase in dry mass led to a 7 and 8-fold increase in organic C and N content, respectively, the algal C/N ratio (18±1) was significantly lowered in the combined treatment relative to controls (26±2). Furthermore, exclusion of herbivores significantly increased the relative abundance of filamentous algae on the light-exposed tiles and reduced crustose coralline algae and non-coralline red crusts on the shaded tiles. The combination of the herbivore exclusion and nutrient enrichment treatments pronounced these effects. The results of our study suggest that herbivore reduction, particularly when coupled with nutrient enrichment, favors non-calcifying, filamentous algae growth with high biomass production, which thoroughly outcompetes the encrusting (calcifying) algae that dominates in undisturbed conditions. These results suggest that the healthy reefs of the Central Red Sea may experience rapid shifts in benthic community composition with ensuing effects for biogeochemical cycles if anthropogenic impacts, particularly overfishing, are not controlled.
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.
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.
Coral reefs; Comparative genomic hybridization (CGH); Microarray; Mitochondria; Evolution
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.