Stony corals form the foundation of coral reef ecosystems. Their phylogeny is characterized by a deep evolutionary divergence that separates corals into a robust and complex clade dating back to at least 245 mya. However, the genomic consequences and clade-specific evolution remain unexplored. In this study we have produced the genome of a robust coral, Stylophora pistillata, and compared it to the available genome of a complex coral, Acropora digitifera. We conducted a fine-scale gene-based analysis focusing on ortholog groups. Among the core set of conserved proteins, we found an emphasis on processes related to the cnidarian-dinoflagellate symbiosis. Genes associated with the algal symbiosis were also independently expanded in both species, but both corals diverged on the identity of ortholog groups expanded, and we found uneven expansions in genes associated with innate immunity and stress response. Our analyses demonstrate that coral genomes can be surprisingly disparate. Future analyses incorporating more genomic data should be able to determine whether the patterns elucidated here are not only characteristic of the differences between S. pistillata and A. digitifera but also representative of corals from the robust and complex clade at large.
Bayer, Till; Aranda, Manuel; Sunagawa, Shinichi; Yum, Lauren; Desalvo, Michael K; Lindquist, Erika; Coffroth, Mary Alice; Voolstra, Christian R.; Medina, Mónica(PLoS ONE, Public Library of Science (PLoS), 2012-04-18)[Article]
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.
Voolstra, Christian R.; Sunagawa, Shinichi; Matz, Mikhail V; Bayer, Till; Aranda, Manuel; Buschiazzo, Emmanuel; Desalvo, Michael K; Lindquist, Erika; Szmant, Alina M; Coffroth, Mary Alice; Medina, Mónica(PLoS ONE, Public Library of Science (PLoS), 2011-05-25)[Article]
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.
Jessen, Christian; Lizcano, Javier; Bayer, Till; Roder, Cornelia; Aranda, Manuel; Wild, Christian; Voolstra, Christian R.(PLoS ONE, Public Library of Science (PLoS), 2013-04-22)[Article]
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 (15)N 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.
Liew, Yi Jin; Aranda, Manuel; Carr, Adrian; Baumgarten, Sebastian; Zoccola, Didier; Tambutté, Sylvie; Allemand, Denis; Micklem, Gos; Voolstra, Christian R.(PLoS ONE, Public Library of Science (PLoS), 2014-03-21)[Article]
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.
Röthig, Till; Martins Da Costa, Ruben; Simona, Fabia; Baumgarten, Sebastian; Torres, Ana F.; Radhakrishnan, Anand; Aranda, Manuel; Voolstra, Christian R.(Frontiers in Marine Science, Frontiers Media SA, 2016-11-18)[Article]
Coral reefs are in decline. The basic functional unit of coral reefs is the coral metaorganism or holobiont consisting of the cnidarian host animal, symbiotic algae of the genus Symbiodinium, and a specific consortium of bacteria (among others), but research is slow due to the difficulty of working with corals. Aiptasia has proven to be a tractable model system to elucidate the intricacies of cnidarian-dinoflagellate symbioses, but characterization of the associated bacterial microbiome is required to provide a complete and integrated understanding of holobiont function. In this work, we characterize and analyze the microbiome of aposymbiotic and symbiotic Aiptasia and show that bacterial associates are distinct in both conditions. We further show that key microbial associates can be cultured without their cnidarian host. Our results suggest that bacteria play an important role in the symbiosis of Aiptasia with Symbiodinium, a finding that underlines the power of the Aiptasia model system where cnidarian hosts can be analyzed in aposymbiotic and symbiotic states. The characterization of the native microbiome and the ability to retrieve culturable isolates contributes to the resources available for the Aiptasia model system. This provides an opportunity to comparatively analyze cnidarian metaorganisms as collective functional holobionts and as separated member species. We hope that this will accelerate research into understanding the intricacies of coral biology, which is urgently needed to develop strategies to mitigate the effects of environmental change.
Herrera Sarrias, Marcela; Ziegler, Maren; Voolstra, Christian R.; Aranda, Manuel(Frontiers in Marine Science, Frontiers Media SA, 2017-05-02)[Article]
Exaiptasia is a laboratory sea anemone model system for stony corals. Two clonal strains are commonly used, referred to as H2 and CC7, that originate from two genetically distinct lineages and that differ in their Symbiodinium specificity. However, little is known about their other microbial associations. Here, we examined and compared the taxonomic composition of the bacterial assemblages of these two symbiotic Exaiptasia strains, both of which have been cultured in the laboratory long-term under identical conditions. We found distinct bacterial microbiota for each strain, indicating the presence of host-specific microbial consortia. Putative differences in the bacterial functional profiles (i.e., enrichment and depletion of various metabolic processes) based on taxonomic inference were also detected, further suggesting functional differences of the microbiomes associated with these lineages. Our study contributes to the current knowledge of the Exaiptasia holobiont by comparing the bacterial diversity of two commonly used strains as models for coral research.
Brüwer, Jan D.; Agrawal, Shobhit; Liew, Yi Jin; Aranda, Manuel; Voolstra, Christian R.(BMC Microbiology, Springer Nature, 2017-08-17)[Article]
Stony corals provide the structural foundation of coral reef ecosystems and are termed holobionts given they engage in symbioses, in particular with photosynthetic dinoflagellates of the genus Symbiodinium. Besides Symbiodinium, corals also engage with bacteria affecting metabolism, immunity, and resilience of the coral holobiont, but the role of associated viruses is largely unknown. In this regard, the increase of studies using RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq) to assess gene expression provides an opportunity to elucidate viral signatures encompassed within the data via careful delineation of sequence reads and their source of origin.Here, we re-analyzed an RNA-Seq dataset from a cultured coral symbiont (Symbiodinium microadriaticum, Clade A1) across four experimental treatments (control, cold shock, heat shock, dark shock) to characterize associated viral diversity, abundance, and gene expression. Our approach comprised the filtering and removal of host sequence reads, subsequent phylogenetic assignment of sequence reads of putative viral origin, and the assembly and analysis of differentially expressed viral genes. About 15.46% (123 million) of all sequence reads were non-host-related, of which <1% could be classified as archaea, bacteria, or virus. Of these, 18.78% were annotated as virus and comprised a diverse community consistent across experimental treatments. Further, non-host related sequence reads assembled into 56,064 contigs, including 4856 contigs of putative viral origin that featured 43 differentially expressed genes during heat shock. The differentially expressed genes included viral kinases, ubiquitin, and ankyrin repeat proteins (amongst others), which are suggested to help the virus proliferate and inhibit the algal host's antiviral response.Our results suggest that a diverse viral community is associated with coral algal endosymbionts of the genus Symbiodinium, which prompts further research on their ecological role in coral health and resilience.
Bhattacharya, Debashish; Agrawal, Shobhit; Aranda, Manuel; Baumgarten, Sebastian; Belcaid, Mahdi; Drake, Jeana L; Erwin, Douglas; Foret, Sylvian; Gates, Ruth D; Gruber, David F; Kamel, Bishoy; Lesser, Michael P; Levy, Oren; Liew, Yi Jin; MacManes, Matthew; Mass, Tali; Medina, Monica; Mehr, Shaadi; Meyer, Eli; Price, Dana C; Putnam, Hollie M; Qiu, Huan; Shinzato, Chuya; Shoguchi, Eiichi; Stokes, Alexander J; Tambutté, Sylvie; Tchernov, Dan; Voolstra, Christian R.; Wagner, Nicole; Walker, Charles W; Weber, Andreas PM; Weis, Virginia; Zelzion, Ehud; Zoccola, Didier; Falkowski, Paul G(eLife, eLife Sciences Publications, Ltd, 2016-05-24)[Article]
Transcriptome and genome data from twenty stony coral species and a selection of reference bilaterians were studied to elucidate coral evolutionary history. We identified genes that encode the proteins responsible for the precipitation and aggregation of the aragonite skeleton on which the organisms live, and revealed a network of environmental sensors that coordinate responses of the host animals to temperature, light, and pH. Furthermore, we describe a variety of stress-related pathways, including apoptotic pathways that allow the host animals to detoxify reactive oxygen and nitrogen species that are generated by their intracellular photosynthetic symbionts, and determine the fate of corals under environmental stress. Some of these genes arose through horizontal gene transfer and comprise at least 0.2% of the animal gene inventory. Our analysis elucidates the evolutionary strategies that have allowed symbiotic corals to adapt and thrive for hundreds of millions of years.
Rising sea surface temperature is the main cause of global coral reef decline. Abnormally high temperatures trigger the breakdown of the symbiotic association between corals and their photosynthetic symbionts in the genus Symbiodinium. Higher genetic variation resulting from shorter generation times has previously been proposed to provide increased adaptability to Symbiodinium compared to the host. Retrotransposition is a significant source of genetic variation in eukaryotes and some transposable elements are specifically expressed under adverse environmental conditions. We present transcriptomic and phylogenetic evidence for the existence of heat stress-activated Ty1-copia-type LTR retrotransposons in the coral symbiont Symbiodinium microadriaticum. Genome-wide analyses of emergence patterns of these elements further indicate recent expansion events in the genome of S. microadriaticum. Our findings suggest that acute temperature increases can activate specific retrotransposons in the Symbiodinium genome with potential impacts on the rate of retrotransposition and the generation of genetic variation under heat stress.The ISME Journal advance online publication, 20 October 2017; doi:10.1038/ismej.2017.179.
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