Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Corals cozy up with bacterial buddies

Date:
July 8, 2013
Source:
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Summary:
Corals may let certain bacteria get under their skin, according to a new study. 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.

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.
Credit: Photo by Michael Berumen, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Corals may let certain bacteria get under their 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. 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.

Related Articles


"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.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. T. Bayer, M. J. Neave, A. Alsheikh-Hussain, M. Aranda, L. K. Yum, T. Mincer, K. Hughen, A. Apprill, C. R. Voolstra. The Microbiome of the Red Sea Coral Stylophora pistillata Is Dominated by Tissue-Associated Endozoicomonas Bacteria. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 2013; 79 (15): 4759 DOI: 10.1128/AEM.00695-13

Cite This Page:

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. "Corals cozy up with bacterial buddies." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 July 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130708151005.htm>.
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. (2013, July 8). Corals cozy up with bacterial buddies. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130708151005.htm
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. "Corals cozy up with bacterial buddies." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130708151005.htm (accessed October 25, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

EU Gets Climate Deal, UK PM Gets Knock

EU Gets Climate Deal, UK PM Gets Knock

Reuters - Business Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) EU leaders achieve a show of unity by striking a compromise deal on carbon emissions. But David Cameron's bid to push back EU budget contributions gets a slap in the face as the European Commission demands an extra 2bn euros. David Pollard reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) Miniature deep sea animals discovered off the Australian coast almost three decades ago are puzzling scientists, who say the organisms have proved impossible to categorise. Academics at the Natural History of Denmark have appealed to the world scientific community for help, saying that further information on Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides could answer key evolutionary questions. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Tornado Rips Roofs in Washington State

Raw: Tornado Rips Roofs in Washington State

AP (Oct. 24, 2014) A rare tornado ripped roofs off buildings, uprooted trees and shattered windows Thursday afternoon in the southwest Washington city of Longview, but there were no reports of injuries. (Oct. 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Fast-Moving Lava Headed For Town On Hawaii's Big Island

Fast-Moving Lava Headed For Town On Hawaii's Big Island

Newsy (Oct. 24, 2014) Lava from the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island has accelerated as it travels toward a town called Pahoa. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins