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FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 2017 Jul 1;93(7). doi: 10.1093/femsec/fix080.

Complex interactions between potentially pathogenic, opportunistic, and resident bacteria emerge during infection on a reef-building coral.

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Department of Ecology, Evolution, & Natural Resources School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8525, USA.
Marine Science Center, Northeastern University, Nahant, MA 01908, USA.


Increased bacterial diversity on diseased corals can obscure disease etiology and complicate our understanding of pathogenesis. To untangle microbes that may cause white band disease signs from microbes responding to disease, we inoculated healthy Acropora cervicornis corals with an infectious dose from visibly diseased corals. We sampled these dosed corals and healthy controls over time for sequencing of the bacterial 16S region. Endozoicomonas were associated with healthy fragments from 4/10 colonies, dominating microbiomes before dosing and decreasing over time only in corals that displayed disease signs, suggesting a role in disease resistance. We grouped disease-associated bacteria by when they increased in abundance (primary vs secondary) and whether they originated in the dose (colonizers) or the previously healthy corals (responders). We found that all primary responders increased in all dosed corals regardless of final disease state and are therefore unlikely to cause disease signs. In contrast, primary colonizers in the families Pasteurellaceae and Francisellaceae increased solely in dosed corals that ultimately displayed disease signs, and may be infectious foreign bacteria involved in the development of disease signs. Moving away from a static comparison of diseased and healthy bacterial communities, we provide a framework to identify key players in other coral diseases.


Acropora cervicornis; coral disease; pathogenesis; staghorn coral; symbiotic microorganisms; white band disease

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