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Mol Ecol. 2016 Jul;25(13):3127-41. doi: 10.1111/mec.13659. Epub 2016 May 18.

The transcriptomic response of the coral Acropora digitifera to a competent Symbiodinium strain: the symbiosome as an arrested early phagosome.

Author information

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Townsville, Qld, 4811, Australia.
Comparative Genomics Centre and Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, James Cook University, Townsville, Qld, 4811, Australia.
Zoology Department, Faculty of Science, Benha University, Benha, 13518, Egypt.
AIMS@JCU, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, Australian Institute of Marine Science, James Cook University, Townsville, Qld, 4811, Australia.
Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW, 2109, Australia.
Sesoko Station, Tropical Biosphere Research Center, University of the Ryukyus, 3422 Sesoko, Motobu Okinawa, 905-0227, Japan.
Marine Genomics Unit, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Promotion Corporation, Onna, Okinawa, 904-0412, Japan.
ARC Centre of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Institute for Molecular Bioscience, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Qld, 4072, Australia.
Australian Institute for Marine Science, PMB 3, Townsville, Qld, 4811, Australia.
Department of Marine Ecosystems and Impacts, James Cook University, Townsville, Qld, 4811, Australia.
Evolution, Ecology and Genetics, Research School of Biology, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, 0200, Australia.


Despite the ecological significance of the relationship between reef-building corals and intracellular photosynthetic dinoflagellates of the genus Symbiodinium, very little is known about the molecular mechanisms involved in its establishment. Indeed, microarray-based analyses point to the conclusion that host gene expression is largely or completely unresponsive during the establishment of symbiosis with a competent strain of Symbiodinium. In this study, the use of Illumina RNA-Seq technology allowed detection of a transient period of differential expression involving a small number of genes (1073 transcripts; <3% of the transcriptome) 4 h after the exposure of Acropora digitifera planulae to a competent strain of Symbiodinium (a clade B strain). This phenomenon has not previously been detected as a consequence of both the lower sensitivity of the microarray approaches used and the sampling times used. The results indicate that complex changes occur, including transient suppression of mitochondrial metabolism and protein synthesis, but are also consistent with the hypothesis that the symbiosome is a phagosome that has undergone early arrest, raising the possibility of common mechanisms in the symbiotic interactions of corals and symbiotic sea anemones with their endosymbionts.


Acropora; Symbiodinium; symbiosis; symbiosome; transcriptome

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