Researchers Document Gene Expression Response to Hard Coral Tissue Loss Disease
MIAMI–A new study by scientists at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami (UM) is the first to document what coral genes do in response to a disease that is rapidly killing corals across the world. Florida and the Caribbean. The findings may help better understand the immune system of corals as new diseases emerge as the ocean warms.
The collaborative effort between researchers at UM Rosenstiel School, Mote Marine Laboratory and the Smithsonian Marine Station is the first to document a coral gene expression response to stony coral tissue loss disease and that disease elicits a shared immune response in at least two coral species – mountain star coral (O. faveolata) and star coral (M. cavernosa).
“This work is vital in our efforts to save Florida’s coral reefs,” said study lead author Nikki Traylor-Knowles, assistant professor of marine biology and ecology at UM Rosenstiel School. “It is imperative that we better understand their immune system and how it can help or harm their health in the face of climate change and disease. “
Since its onset in 2014, the stony coral tissue loss disease has spread to most coral reefs in Florida as well as others in the Caribbean and has affected more than 20 coral species to date.
In this study, researchers exposed healthy corals to hard coral tissue loss disease in order to– study their reaction at the cellular level. They discovered a network of genes important for cell responses including cell death, immunity and tissue rearrangement, indicating that the disease causes rapid cell death and tissue rearrangement.
An interesting set of genes discovered by researchers – peroxidases – are known to be important for the stress response in invertebrates and have been shown to play an important role in the late stage disease response in corals.
The study, titled “Gene Expression Response to Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease Transmission Disease in M. cavernosa and O. faveolata from Florida,” was published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science. The co-authors are: Nikki Traylor-Knowles, Michael T. Connelly, Benjamin D. Young, Melissa K. Drown, Ashley Goncalves, Grace A. Snyder, Allyson DeMerlis, Cecily Martin, Nicholas Kron and Kevin Rodriguez of UM Rosenstiel School; Katherine Eaton and Erinn M. Muller of Mote Marine Laboratory; and Valerie J. Paul and Blake Ushijima of the Smithsonian Marine Station.
The study was funded by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (grant # PR11155032).