Sizing up the symbiotic partnership: towards a single-cell view of nutrients uptake in cnidaria-dinoflagellate symbiosis
Reefs based on scleractinian corals are among the most productive and biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth. At the heart of their success as the architects of coral reefs, is their symbiosis with dinoflagellate algae, which live within their tissues and provide corals with an enlarged metabolic repertoire. Thus corals are ‘polytrophic’, being able to acquire carbon-based nutrients from sunlight through their algal symbionts (‘autotrophic’), feeding on plankton (‘heterotrophic’), and absorbing dissolved nutrients from the surrounding water. These strategies increase the nutritional options of corals in an environment where planktonic food supplies and dissolved nutrients in seawater may be episodic.
The intertwined nature of coral-dinoflagellate endosymbiosis has made the relative quantification of host and symbiont contributions to metabolic activities extremely difficult so far. Consequently, whilst we now recognize the threats of human activity, future climate change and associated symptoms of stress on the reef, very little is known about the nutritional function of the cnidarian-dinoflagellate symbiosis that underpins and maintains reef health.
In this talk, I will explore how the development of new technologies combining isotopic labeling and high resolution imaging analysis opens a new interdisciplinary frontier in the study of such symbiotic interactions with direct implications for how these organisms will respond to environmental changes.