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ISME J. 2009 May;3(5):512-21. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2008.131. Epub 2009 Jan 8.

Bacterial diversity and White Plague Disease-associated community changes in the Caribbean coral Montastraea faveolata.

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School of Natural Sciences, University of California, Merced, CA 95344, USA.


Increasing evidence confirms the crucial role bacteria and archaea play within the coral holobiont, that is, the coral host and its associated microbial community. The bacterial component constitutes a community of high diversity, which appears to change in structure in response to disease events. In this study, we highlight the limitation of 16S rRNA gene (16S rDNA) clone library sequencing as the sole method to comprehensively describe coral-associated communities. This limitation was addressed by combining a high-density 16S rRNA gene microarray with, clone library sequencing as a novel approach to study bacterial communities in healthy versus diseased corals. We determined an increase in diversity as well as a significant shift in community structure in Montastraea faveolata colonies displaying phenotypic signs of White Plague Disease type II (WPD-II). An accumulation of species that belong to families that include known coral pathogens (Alteromonadaceae, Vibrionaceae), bacteria previously isolated from diseased, stressed or injured marine invertebrates (for example, Rhodobacteraceae), and other species (for example, Campylobacteraceae) was observed. Some of these species were also present in healthy tissue samples, but the putative primary pathogen, Aurantimonas corallicida, was not detected in any sample by either method. Although an ecological succession of bacteria during disease progression after causation by a primary agent represents a possible explanation for our observations, we also discuss the possibility that a disease of yet to be determined etiology may have affected M. faveolata colonies and resulted in (or be a result of) an increase in opportunistic pathogens.

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