Thursday, February 22, 2018

Scientific Publication in Marine Biology - Ecophysiology Department

A glimmer of hope: Effective immune and stress responses provide disease resistance in corals

A recent study published by an international team of researchers led by Dr. Jeroen van de Water, postdoctoral researcher in the Ecophysiology team of the Centre Scientifique de Monaco, shows that some reef-building corals and their beneficial microbes respond adequately to high temperatures and disease-causing bacteria, and may have even developed resistance to certain diseases.
Coral diseases are responsible for nearly 7% of the loss of corals, and disease outbreaks are expected to increase due to increasing seawater temperatures related to climate change. Corals possess an effective immune system, in part similar to the human immune system. While it has been expected that “heat stress” activates pathogenic bacteria and reduces the capacity of corals to defend themselves against pathogens, it was still unclear how this happened, what the extent of it would be and whether this indeed leads to more disease.

To close this knowledge gap, the team exposed the coral Montipora aequituberculata to a range of temperatures and simultaneously challenged it with bacteria that cause one of the most devastating coral diseases: White Syndrome. To the surprise of the researchers, the coral and the microbial algal symbiont Symbiodinium, which provides the coral animal with most of its food, remained mostly healthy. To investigate why, the team used a holistic approach, analyzing the impacts of elevated temperatures and pathogens on all components of the coral ‘holobiont’ (the host animal and its microbes). Results on the physiology, immune system and the bacterial communities on the coral, as well as the transcriptome response (i.e. the expression of all the genes) showed that while the corals did experience some degree of stress, the immune and stress responses were so effective that the microbial community remained healthy and the overall impact on the coral holobiont was limited, ultimately preventing disease development.
The novel holistic approach taken in the study provides the scientific community with the first reference transcriptome of the coral Montipora aequituberculata and new insights into how the community of microbes and coral host can effectively defend itself against elevated temperature stress and pathogens. But more importantly, it offers a glimmer of hope that corals can develop resistance against diseases in the face of climate change.

© Ryan McMinds / Joe Pollock (Wikimedia)
Coral Montipora aequituberculata, Ningaloo Reef, Australia.

van de Water, J. A. J. M., Chaib De Mares, M., Dixon, G. B., Raina, J. B., Willis, B. L., Bourne, D. G., & van Oppen, M. J. (2018). Antimicrobial and stress responses to increased temperature and bacterial pathogen challenge in the holobiont of a reef-building coral. Molecular Ecology: 1-16

 


For more information, refer to www.centrescientifique.mc or contact:

- Dr Jeroen van de Water, Post-doctoral scientist in the Ecophysiology team, Marine Biology Department, Centre Scientifique de Monaco (jvdewater@centrescientifique.mc)

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