Michael Sweet, University of Derby
Aquatic Symbiosis Genomics

The Coral Symbiosis Genome Project

Advancing insight into coral-algal symbioses through the lens of their genomes

Project Lead/s

Michael Sweet, University of Derby

Project Summary

Corals are multipartite metaorganisms that, at their core, consist of trophic symbioses between cnidarian hosts and phototrophic dinoflagellates of the family Symbiodiniaceae. Corals, especially reef-building scleractinians, are the linch-pin of tropical reefs. As many reef-building species are projected to go extinct by 2050 (climate change), the collapse of entire reef ecosystems is likely, resulting in catastrophic ecological and socio-economic consequences. Reaching a greater understanding of host-symbiont relationships is therefore a pressing issue, which will provide the knowledge framework for our actions during this ecological crisis.

Surprisingly, only a handful of genomes have been generated for corals and even fewer for Symbiodiniaceae. Those available are often fragmented, inhibiting insight into chromosomal arrangements and precluding the creation of linkage maps (key features of tractable model systems). As part of the Aquatic Symbiosis Genomics Project, we propose to advance the study of coral symbiosis by creating a public resource of whole genomes from 41 coral-microalgal holobionts. These high quality reference genomes will promote new studies in comparative genomics and epigenetics and the basal metazoan nature of cnidarians will facilitate reconstruction of early animal evolution. Furthermore, via comparative genomic studies between 12 symbiotic and 6 free-living Symbiodiniaceae strains, we will identify key adaptations associated with symbiosis in this important group of microorganisms.