Collaborative Research: Ontogenic change in Cnidarian-algal symbioses: A genomic and ecologic perspective
Coffroth, Mary Alice Principal Investigator
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PROJECT SUMMARY The symbiosis between corals (Cnidaria:Hexacorallia:Scleractinia) and photosynthetic dinoflagellate symbionts (Alveolata: Dinophycea: Symbiodinium) provides the foundation and structure of the coral reef ecosystem, as well as significant contributions to global carbon and biogeochemical cycles. Given the importance of this symbiosis to the coral-algal holobiont and the reef ecosystem, understanding the mechanisms governing the establishment and long term maintenance of this symbiosis is essential. The overall aim of this project is to identify the mechanisms and selective processes that lead to the final assemblage of symbionts harbored by adult hosts. This question will be approached from two perspectives, ecologic and genomic, with the specific aims of determining (1) if different Symbiodinium strains differentially affect fitness of corals as the adult settles into a mature symbiosis (2) if competition among symbionts or environmental conditions contribute to the final host-symbiont pairing and (3) how host/symbiont transcriptomes varying as the symbiont community within a host is winnowed to the final assemblage found in the adult host. Traits that directly affect coral fitness (i.e. growth, survivorship, energy production) will be measured under different environmental conditions over the ontogeny of coral recruits that are experimentally infected with different types of Symbiodinium. Concurrently, high throughput gene expression profiling will be used to follow changes in gene expression between host and symbiont. Together, these data will be used to validate or falsify the hypotheses that the final symbiont assemblage found in the adult host is determined by (a) host selection (b) competition among symbionts and/or (c) environmental condition. This study pools the expertise of two labs that have focused on these aspects of the symbiosis. The Coffroth lab pioneered the studies on early ontogeny of the symbiosis and symbiont diversity and will continue to take the lead in the ecological studies. The Medina lab is at the forefront in the development and utilization of genomic technology to study transcriptomic changes during the establishment and breakdown of the symbiosis. Furthermore, the Medina lab has the coral microarrays to be used in this study and in 2009 will also have oligo arrays for two Symbiodinium species based on 454 EST data. Although several groups have initial studies of the host transcriptome, none have combined an approach that examines the host and the symbiont in a single experiment. This will be a powerful approach as it will allow the investigators to track complementary changes in gene expression between host and symbiont and relate those to turnover in the symbiont community as the final symbiont complement is established. The data resulting form the study will bridge an important gap in our understanding of the establishment and maintenance of coral-Symbiodinium symbiosis. Understanding the mechanism(s) regulating the establishment of the symbiosis will broaden our knowledge and help to predict the response of this symbiosis to future climate conditions. As in the past, the genomic tools (arrays, ESTs) will be made readily available to researchers via array distribution at cost, microarray analysis training, or sequence data, providing valuable resources to continue exploring these systems. In conjunction the Aquarium of Niagara, Coffroth will develop educational and outreach programs to train and disseminate information on coral reefs to local area teachers and the general public. The Medina lab will continue to produce science and environment podcasts in multiple languages (English, Spanish and Hmong) with undergraduate students at UC Merced and will continue to collaborate with the California Academy of Sciences (CAS) in their coral reef outreach efforts. Additionally, this work will result in the training and mentoring of a postdoctoral fellow, at least one graduate student and at least 2 undergraduates. Through this project these students will have the opportunity to participate in research in both a lab and field setting, learning a range of ecological, molecular and algal culturing techniques. The extensive culture collection housed at the University at Buffalo is an important resource that is available to researchers worldwide which the proposed funding will help to maintain. Our EST annotations are publicly available through our EST database (http://sequoia.ucmerced.edu/SymBioSys/).