Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Corals turn to algae for stored food when times get tough

14.05.2013
Researchers at EPFL present new evidence for the crucial role of algae in the survival of their coral hosts. Ultra-high resolution images reveal that the algae temporarily store nutrients as crystals, building up reserves for when supplies run low

Researchers at EPFL present new evidence for the crucial role of algae in the survival of their coral hosts. Ultra-high resolution images reveal that the algae temporarily store nutrients as crystals, building up reserves for when supplies run low.

The relationship between corals and the microscopic algae they harbor is a classic example of biological symbiosis - the mutually beneficial interaction of two species. But crucial details regarding their relationship have remained elusive until now. Using state-of-the-art imaging techniques, Anders Meibom and his team of researchers in the Laboratory for Biological Geochemistry have found new evidence on the vital role algae play in helping corals survive in environments where nutrients are scarce. Their findings were published in the journal mBio on May 16, 2013.

"Coral reefs are the jungles of our oceans - hotspots of biodiversity that easily outcompete all other marine ecosystems," says Christophe Kopp, first-author of the publication. Coral bleaching occurs when the colorful algae abandon their coral host because of environmental strains like rising sea temperatures. On their own, corals struggle to survive in tropical waters where nutrients are scarce, and persistent starvation can have irreversible effects. While it is well known that algae help corals to assimilate certain nutrients, such as nitrogen from seawater, how this occurs, and to what extent the corals can get by on their own, are less clear.

To study how nitrogen-rich nutrients are taken up and processed by the corals and the algae that inhabit them, Meibom's research group teamed up with the Aquarium Tropicale Porte Dorée in Paris to run a series of experiments. There, they fed the corals nitrogen-rich compounds labeled with a heavy nitrogen isotope that they could later trace in the lab. Every few minutes, they extracted bits of coral, which they fixed and analyzed with a state-of-the-art isotopic imaging instrument, a so-called NanoSIMS.

Next, they assembled a timeline of how the nitrogen is processed by the corals and their resident algae by lining up the images of the samples extracted at different times. A combination of electron microscopy and mass spectrometry allowed them to study with unprecedented precision into which cellular compartments the heavier nitrogen isotopes had been incorporated.

Crystal food banks

The research revealed that the corals depend strongly on the algae to extract sufficient nutrients from the water. This was particularly true when the corals were exposed to nitrate, a compound that they are unable to process and assimilate on their own.

But most interestingly, the scientists observed that the algae act as tiny food banks. Their images revealed that the algae temporarily store the nitrogen in the form of uric acid crystals – a fact they later confirmed using crystallographic analysis. This way, the algae can stock up on nutrients when supply is abundant and draw on them when supply drops, leaching some out to their coral host.

Because coral reefs are at the foundation of immense economic activity, both as tourist magnets and as the habitats of some of the most productive fish populations, understanding their fate as the environment they inhabit changes is not only of ecological, but also of economic importance.

The research was performed in close collaboration with EPFL's Interdisciplinary Centre For Electron Microscopy (CIME), the Institute of Earth Science at the University of Lausanne, as well as the Aquarium Tropicale Porte Dorée and the Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris. The work is funded by an ERC Advanced grant and by a grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation.

Anders Meibom | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.epfl.ch

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Newly designed molecule binds nitrogen
23.02.2018 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

nachricht Atomic Design by Water
23.02.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Eisenforschung 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: Good vibrations feel the force

A group of researchers led by Andrea Cavalleri at the Max Planck Institute for Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) in Hamburg has demonstrated a new method enabling precise measurements of the interatomic forces that hold crystalline solids together. The paper Probing the Interatomic Potential of Solids by Strong-Field Nonlinear Phononics, published online in Nature, explains how a terahertz-frequency laser pulse can drive very large deformations of the crystal.

By measuring the highly unusual atomic trajectories under extreme electromagnetic transients, the MPSD group could reconstruct how rigid the atomic bonds are...

Im Focus: Developing reliable quantum computers

International research team makes important step on the path to solving certification problems

Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...

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...

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

Newly designed molecule binds nitrogen

23.02.2018 | Life Sciences

Stagnation in the South Pacific Explains Natural CO2 Fluctuations

23.02.2018 | Earth Sciences

Mat4Rail: EU Research Project on the Railway of the Future

23.02.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>