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 Cells communicate in a dynamic code
19.02.2018 | California Institute of Technology

nachricht Studying mitosis' structure to understand the inside of cancer cells
19.02.2018 | Biophysical Society

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: In best circles: First integrated circuit from self-assembled polymer

For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.

In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

Im Focus: Hybrid optics bring color imaging using ultrathin metalenses into focus

For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.

But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...

Im Focus: Stem cell divisions in the adult brain seen for the first time

Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.

The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...

Im Focus: Interference as a new method for cooling quantum devices

Theoretical physicists propose to use negative interference to control heat flow in quantum devices. Study published in Physical Review Letters

Quantum computer parts are sensitive and need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Their tiny size makes them particularly susceptible to a temperature...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Contacting the molecular world through graphene nanoribbons

19.02.2018 | Materials Sciences

When Proteins Shake Hands

19.02.2018 | Materials Sciences

Cells communicate in a dynamic code

19.02.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>