Corals’ resistance to disease is highly dependent on their ability to maintain healthy surface microbiomes, a community of microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi.
For several years, it has been shown that corals harbor unique microbes at their surfaces but the mechanisms of how this community is recruited and maintained were not known. NYU Abu Dhabi Assistant Professor of Biology Shady Amin, along with Philippe Schmitt-Kopplin from the Helmholtz Center Munich, report in their new research study that corals, though are stationary organisms, can alter their surroundings by producing unique molecules that can help recruit healthy microbiomes and fight parasitic microbes.
Much like how our health is linked to maintaining a healthy gut microbiome, corals also resist disease by maintaining a healthy surface microbiome. The paper reports for the first time that corals are surrounded by a cloud of molecules that form concentration gradients around coral colonies and help structure microbial communities, also known as surface microbiomes, residing on coral surfaces. The implications of these findings are far reaching as these microbial communities are strongly linked to whether corals around the world are healthy or are infected by disease.
What Does Unhealthy Coral Look Like?
The images below, taken by NYUAD researchers, show the difference between sick and healthy coral colonies. The top image shows the coral species acropora and platygyra infected with a white syndrome disease. The bottom image shows a healthy colony.
Furthermore, the researchers have detected surface associated molecules characteristic of healthy or white-syndrome disease infected corals, a finding which may aid in predicting the onset of disease.