Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Corals cozy up with bacterial buddies

09.07.2013
New study shows healthy Red Sea corals carry bacterial communities within

Corals may let certain bacteria get under its skin, according to a new study by researchers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and soon to be published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.


KAUST-based coral scientist Christian Voolstra gathered samples of the coral species Stylophora pistillata. Earlier sampling methods ground up and mixed together the coral’s surface, tissue, and skeletal layers to obtain genetic information, making it impossible to tell where exactly the genetic information came from. This time, Voolstra and the researchers used a microscopy-based technique and were able to determine that Endozoicomonas lives within the tissue layer. (Photo by Michael Berumen, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

The study offers the first direct evidence that Stylophora pistillata, a species of reef-building coral found throughout the Indian and west Pacific Oceans, harbors bacterial denizens deep within its tissues.

“We have evidence that other species of coral also host these bacteria, and that they may play an important role in keeping a coral healthy,” says Amy Apprill, a WHOI assistant scientist who co-directed the study along with KAUST Assistant Professor Christian Voolstra. KAUST post-doctoral scholar Till Bayer was the lead author of the study.

Researchers have known for decades that most corals don’t like to live alone. Reef-building corals are known to have symbiotic, or mutually beneficial, relationships with single-celled algae. More recent evidence has suggested that bacteria, fungi, and viruses are also part of the mix—especially a group of bacteria called Endozoicomonas, which has been associated with a number of coral species around the world. But scientists haven’t been able to pinpoint where exactly Endozoicomonas lives—in the coral’s tissues or on its surface layer—or what it does there.

Through a research partnership between WHOI and KAUST in Saudi Arabia, Apprill and a diverse team of WHOI and KAUST researchers were able to gain access to the pristine coral reef colonies of the Red Sea. There, they used DNA-based techniques to uncover an abundance of Endozoicomonas genes associated with the coral Stylophora pistillata. The team then created a DNA “probe”—a fragment of DNA designed to fit into the bacterium’s genetic code like a missing puzzle piece—that would light up when it connected with Endozoicomonas genes. Guided by the probe’s fluorescence, the researchers were able to spot Endozoicomonas living deep within the coral’s tissue.

“These weren’t single cells—they were living together in a clump, like a bunch of grapes on a stem,” says Apprill. “That was pretty exciting, because we had not thought about them living like this before.”

Although Endozoicomonas bacteria had previously been linked to coral colonies throughout the world’s oceans, as well as to some species of sponges and sea slugs, this study is the first to directly show the bacteria living within any marine animal. Now, Apprill says, the real mystery is what it’s doing there.

“When we look at healthy corals, we see these really well-established microbial relationships,” says Apprill. Voolstra further adds: “Endozoicomonas make up a good portion of the bacterial biomass which further tells us that they must be doing something important.” Both researchers agree that the next task is to figure out what they’re doing—why the coral lets them in at all—to understand how they benefit the coral.

Apprill suspects the bacteria may help the coral recycle nutrients to stay healthy. She and her colleagues are currently designing new experiments to determine how the coral’s relationship with its bacterial companions works.

“This is not an easy task,” says Apprill, who plans to draw from studies of the human bacterial microbiome to explore the role of the coral’s bacterial communities. Future studies will focus on searching the Endozoicomonas group’s genetic code for bits of DNA that are associated with particular functions in other bacteria, and looking at other coral species to see if the bacteria lives inside them as well.

Understanding the bacteria’s relationship with Stylophora pistillata and other reef-building species could prove critical as corals face a growing number of threats to their health and survival.

“Corals are highly susceptible to the impacts of climate change, coastal development and overfishing,” says Apprill. “In order for scientists to predict the future success of corals, we need to understand their basic biology, including how their microorganisms may aid in keeping them healthy.”

As the team works to shed light on coral’s symbiosis with bacteria, it’s strengthening another mutually beneficial partnership: the multi-year collaboration between WHOI and KAUST, a new world-class, graduate-level scientific research university opened in 2009 along the shores of the Red Sea. Apprill worked closely with a number of KAUST researchers, including marine scientist Christian Voolstra, Syrian-born graduate student Areej Alsheikh-Hussain and WHOI-KAUST joint postdoctoral scholar Matthew Neave, to gather Stylophora pistillata samples, to extract and to analyze the genetic data it contained.

“This study wouldn’t have been possible without this collaboration,” says Apprill. “Working with people from different institutions who think differently from you leads you to think about things in new ways, and in this case to make new discoveries.”

The research was supported by a KAUST-WHOI Special Academic Partnership Fellows award, the WHOI internal funds, and a grant from the National Science Foundation.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, non-profit organization on Cape Cod, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the ocean and its interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the ocean's role in the changing global environment.

WHOI Media Relations | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.whoi.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Researchers uncover protein-based “cancer signature”
05.12.2016 | Universität Basel

nachricht The Nagoya Protocol Creates Disadvantages for Many Countries when Applied to Microorganisms
05.12.2016 | Leibniz-Institut DSMZ-Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen GmbH

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA's AIM observes early noctilucent ice clouds over Antarctica

05.12.2016 | Earth Sciences

Shape matters when light meets atom

05.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

Researchers uncover protein-based “cancer signature”

05.12.2016 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>