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Coral Microbiome Project Wins 2017 Microbial SMRT Grant

Friday, March 9, 2018

Rice coral

Rice coral (Montipora capitata) growing over Porites lobata. Credit: Dr. Dwayne Meadows, NOAA/NMFS/OPR

Corals are critical to sustaining sea life in many parts of the world, contributing to an elaborate ecosystem that lives in and around their mineralized calcium carbonate skeletons. In addition to hosting photosynthetic endosymbionts in exchange for energy, corals harbor a diverse microbial community. What role does this microbial metagenome play in the health of the coral reef, especially during thermal challenges induced by climate change?

Alexander Shumaker of Rutgers University will get a chance to investigate this question, thanks to long-read sequencing provided by PacBio and Certified Service Provider, the University of Maryland’s Genomics Resource Center (GRC) at the Institute for Genome Sciences (IGS).

As the winner of the 2017 Microbial SMRT Grant, Shumaker’s proposal was selected from many entries in an extremely close competition launched during the American Society for Microbiology annual meeting last summer.

Shumaker, a member of the Debashish Bhattacharya Lab, and collaborators in Hawaii and South Korea have previously used PacBio SMRT Sequencing to generate a high-quality genome assembly from Montipora capitata (rice coral), identifying  the major genes involved in the coral stress response, their expression during development, and the evolutionary history of this lineage.

The lab is currently using RNA-seq methods to investigate further the extent of resilience and adaptation in M. capitata under the major stress factors associated with climate change. Shumaker now wants to turn his attention to the microbiome.

“The potential for interactions between the host animal and its microbial community, and between the diverse members of this community to contribute to holobiont health is poorly understood,” he writes in his proposal.

Shumaker will be working with samples from neighboring sites in a reef in the Hawaiian Archipelago collected over the course of six months, during which there was a natural temperature-induced coral bleaching event. In coral bleaching, high temperatures lead to expulsion of the symbiotic algae that live within them. The corals can recover if the algae take up residence again before they succumb to disease or stress.  Using shotgun metagenome sequencing, he hopes to characterize the symbiotic microbial community of M. capitata and understand whether differences in the coral microbiome may have been a factor in the recovery of colonies that survived.

“This platform will provide greater taxonomic resolution (due to longer reads) of the M. capitata microbiome and allow us to reconstruct genomes and assign functions to the microbial community resident in this species.” he writes.

Congratulations to the Bhattacharya Lab, and we look forward to the results!

Check out additional coverage of the award-winning project on the Rutgers University site. 

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