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New study shows healthy Red Sea corals carry bacterial communities within

Posted on July 9, 2013
The reef-building coral Stylophora pistillata, commonly known as the smooth cauliflower coral, lives alongside other coral species in the reefs of the Red Sea. Past studies have linked this and other species to a group of bacteria called Endozoicomonas, but were unable to determine whether the bacteria lived within the coral. Now researchers have found that it resides deep within the coral’s tissues and may help protect the coral from disease. Credit: Christian Voolstra, KAUST

The reef-building coral Stylophora pistillata, commonly known as the smooth cauliflower coral, lives alongside other coral species in the reefs of the Red Sea. Past studies have linked this and other species to a group of bacteria called Endozoicomonas, but were unable to determine whether the bacteria lived within the coral. Now researchers have found that it resides deep within the coral’s tissues and may help protect the coral from disease. Credit: Christian Voolstra, KAUST

Corals may let certain bacteria get under its 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.

“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 calledEndozoicomonas, which has been associated with a number of coral species around the world. But scientists haven’t been able to pinpoint where exactly Endozoicomonaslives—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 coralStylophora 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.

Read more at: Phys.org

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