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Biol Bull. 2019 Feb;236(1):1-12. doi: 10.1086/700261. Epub 2018 Nov 28.

Somatic Mutation Is a Function of Clone Size and Depth in Orbicella Reef-Building Corals.


In modular organisms, the propagation of genetic variability within a clonal unit can alter the scale at which ecological and evolutionary processes operate. Genetic variation within an individual primarily arises through the accretion of somatic mutations over time, leading to genetic mosaicism. Here, we assess the prevalence of intraorganismal genetic variation and potential mechanisms influencing the degree of genetic mosaicism in the reef corals Orbicella franksi and Orbicella annularis. Colonies of both species, encompassing a range of coral sizes and depths, were sampled multiple times and genotyped at the same microsatellite loci to detect intraorganismal genetic variation. Genetic mosaicism was detected in 38% of corals evaluated, and mutation frequency was found to be positively related with clonal size and negatively associated with coral depth. We suggest that larger clones experience a greater number of somatic cell divisions and consequently have an elevated potential to accumulate mutations. Furthermore, corals at shallower depths may be exposed to abiotic conditions such as elevated thermal regimes, which promote increased mutation rates. The results highlight the pervasiveness of intraorganismal genetic variation in reef-building corals and emphasize potential mechanisms generating somatic mutations in modular organisms.


GLM, generalized linear model; LRT, likelihood ratio test; PCR, polymerase chain reaction; RCF, relative centrifugal force

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