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Microb Ecol. 2014 Feb;67(2):392-401. doi: 10.1007/s00248-013-0334-9. Epub 2013 Dec 27.

Temperature-dependent inhibition of opportunistic Vibrio pathogens by native coral commensal bacteria.

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  • 1Microbiology and Cell Science Department, University of Florida-IFAS, Gainesville, FL, 32611, USA.


Bacteria living within the surface mucus layer of corals compete for nutrients and space. A number of stresses affect the outcome of this competition. The interactions between native microorganisms and opportunistic pathogens largely determine the coral holobiont's overall health and fitness. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that commensal bacteria isolated from the mucus layer of a healthy elkhorn coral, Acropora palmata, are capable of inhibition of opportunistic pathogens, Vibrio shiloi AK1 and Vibrio coralliilyticus. These vibrios are known to cause disease in corals and their virulence is temperature dependent. Elevated temperature (30 °C) increased the cell numbers of one commensal and both Vibrio pathogens in monocultures. We further tested the hypothesis that elevated temperature favors pathogenic organisms by simultaneously increasing the fitness of vibrios and decreasing the fitness of commensals by measuring growth of each species within a co-culture over the course of 1 week. In competition experiments between vibrios and commensals, the proportion of Vibrio spp. increased significantly under elevated temperature. We finished by investigating several temperature-dependent mechanisms that could influence co-culture differences via changes in competitive fitness. The ability of Vibrio spp. to utilize glycoproteins found in A. palmata mucus increased or remained stable when exposed to elevated temperature, while commensals' tended to decrease utilization. In both vibrios and commensals, protease activity increased at 30 °C, while chiA expression increased under elevated temperatures for Vibrio spp. These results provide insight into potential mechanisms through which elevated temperature may select for pathogenic bacterial dominance and lead to disease or a decrease in coral fitness.

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