Aiptasia sp. larvae as a model to reveal mechanisms of symbiont selection in cnidarians.
ABSTRACT: Symbiosis, defined as the persistent association between two distinct species, is an evolutionary and ecologically critical phenomenon facilitating survival of both partners in diverse habitats. The biodiversity of coral reef ecosystems depends on a functional symbiosis with photosynthetic dinoflagellates of the highly diverse genus Symbiodinium, which reside in coral host cells and continuously support their nutrition. The mechanisms underlying symbiont selection to establish a stable endosymbiosis in non-symbiotic juvenile corals are unclear. Here we show for the first time that symbiont selection patterns for larvae of two Acropora coral species and the model anemone Aiptasia are similar under controlled conditions. We find that Aiptasia larvae distinguish between compatible and incompatible symbionts during uptake into the gastric cavity and phagocytosis. Using RNA-Seq, we identify a set of candidate genes potentially involved in symbiosis establishment. Together, our data complement existing molecular resources to mechanistically dissect symbiont phagocytosis in cnidarians under controlled conditions, thereby strengthening the role of Aiptasia larvae as a powerful model for cnidarian endosymbiosis establishment.
Project description:Symbiosis between photosynthetic algae and heterotrophic organisms is widespread. One prominent example of high ecological relevance is the endosymbiosis between dinoflagellate algae of the genus Symbiodinium and reef-building corals, which typically acquire symbionts anew each generation during larval stages. The tropical sea anemone Aiptasia sp. is a laboratory model system for this endosymbiosis and, similar to corals, produces non-symbiotic larvae that establish symbiosis by phagocytosing Symbiodinium from the environment into the endoderm. Here we generate the first overview of Aiptasia embryogenesis and larval development and establish in situ hybridization to analyze expression patterns of key early developmental regulators. Next, we quantify morphological changes in developing larvae and find a substantial enlargement of the gastric cavity over time. Symbiont acquisition starts soon after mouth formation and symbionts occupy a major portion of the host cell in which they reside. During the first 14 days of development, infection efficiency remains constant while in contrast, localization of phagocytosed symbionts changes, indicating that the occurrence of functional phagocytosing cells may be developmentally regulated. Taken together, here we provide the essential framework to further develop Aiptasia as a model system for the analysis of symbiosis establishment in cnidarian larvae at the molecular level.
Project description:Reef-building corals depend on an intracellular symbiosis with photosynthetic dinoflagellates for their survival in nutrient-poor oceans. Symbionts are phagocytosed by coral larvae from the environment and transfer essential nutrients to their hosts. Aiptasia, a small tropical marine sea anemone, is emerging as a tractable model system for coral symbiosis; however, to date functional tools and genetic transformation are lacking. Here we have established an efficient workflow to collect Aiptasia eggs for in vitro fertilization and microinjection as the basis for experimental manipulations in the developing embryo and larvae. We demonstrate that protein, mRNA, and DNA can successfully be injected into live Aiptasia zygotes to label actin with recombinant Lifeact-eGFP protein; to label nuclei and cell membranes with NLS-eGFP and farnesylated mCherry translated from injected mRNA; and to transiently drive transgene expression from an Aiptasia-specific promoter, respectively, in embryos and larvae. These proof-of-concept approaches pave the way for future functional studies of development and symbiosis establishment in Aiptasia, a powerful model to unravel the molecular mechanisms underlying intracellular coral-algal symbiosis.
Project description:The symbiosis between cnidarian hosts and microalgae of the genus Symbiodinium provides the foundation of coral reefs in oligotrophic waters. Understanding the nutrient-exchange between these partners is key to identifying the fundamental mechanisms behind this symbiosis, yet has proven difficult given the endosymbiotic nature of this relationship. In this study, we investigated the respective contribution of host and symbiont to carbon and nitrogen assimilation in the coral model anemone Aiptaisa. For this, we combined traditional measurements with nanoscale secondary ion mass spectrometry (NanoSIMS) and stable isotope labeling to investigate patterns of nutrient uptake and translocation both at the organismal scale and at the cellular scale. Our results show that the rate of carbon and nitrogen assimilation in Aiptasia depends on the identity of the host and the symbiont. NanoSIMS analysis confirmed that both host and symbiont incorporated carbon and nitrogen into their cells, implying a rapid uptake and cycling of nutrients in this symbiotic relationship. Gross carbon fixation was highest in Aiptasia associated with their native Symbiodinium communities. However, differences in fixation rates were only reflected in the ?13C enrichment of the cnidarian host, whereas the algal symbiont showed stable enrichment levels regardless of host identity. Thereby, our results point toward a "selfish" character of the cnidarian-Symbiodinium association in which both partners directly compete for available resources. Consequently, this symbiosis may be inherently instable and highly susceptible to environmental change. While questions remain regarding the underlying cellular controls of nutrient exchange and the nature of metabolites involved, the approach outlined in this study constitutes a powerful toolset to address these questions.
Project description:Coral reefs, and their associated diverse ecosystems, are of enormous ecological importance. In recent years, coral health has been severely impacted by environmental stressors brought on by human activity and climate change, threatening the extinction of several major reef ecosystems. Reef damage is mediated by a process called 'coral bleaching' where corals, sea anemones, and other cnidarians lose their photosynthetic algal symbionts (family Symbiodiniaceae) upon stress induction, resulting in drastically decreased host energy harvest and, ultimately, coral death. The mechanism by which this critical cnidarian-algal symbiosis is lost remains poorly understood. The larvae of the sea anemone, Exaiptasia pallida (commonly referred to as 'Aiptasia') are an attractive model organism to study this process, but they are large (∼100 mm in length, ∼75 mm in diameter), deformable, and highly motile, complicating long-term imaging and limiting study of this critical endosymbiotic relationship in live organisms. Here, we report 'Traptasia', a simple microfluidic device with multiple traps designed to isolate and image individual, live larvae of Aiptasia and their algal symbionts over extended time courses. Using a trap design parameterized via fluid flow simulations and polymer bead loading tests, we trapped Aiptasia larvae containing algal symbionts and demonstrated stable imaging for >10 hours. We visualized algae within Aiptasia larvae and observed algal expulsion under an environmental stressor. To our knowledge, this device is the first to enable time-lapsed, high-throughput live imaging of cnidarian larvae and their algal symbionts and, in further implementation, could provide important insights into the cellular mechanisms of cnidarian bleaching under different environmental stressors. The 'Traptasia' device is simple to use, requires minimal external equipment and no specialized training to operate, and can easily be adapted using the trap optimization data presented here to study a variety of large, motile organisms.
Project description:The endosymbiosis between dinoflagellate algae of the genus Symbiodinium and stony corals provides the foundation of coral reef ecosystems. Coral bleaching, the expulsion of endosymbionts from the coral host tissue as a consequence of heat or light stress, poses a threat to reef ecosystem functioning on a global scale. Hence, a better understanding of the factors contributing to heat stress susceptibility and tolerance is needed. In this regard, some of the most thermotolerant corals live in particularly saline habitats, but possible effects of high salinity on thermotolerance in corals are anecdotal. Here we test the hypothesis that high salinity may lead to increased thermotolerance. We conducted a heat stress experiment at low, intermediate, and high salinities using a set of host-endosymbiont combinations of the coral model Aiptasia. As expected, all host-endosymbiont combinations showed reduced photosynthetic efficiency and endosymbiont loss during heat stress, but the severity of bleaching was significantly reduced with increasing salinities for one of the host-endosymbiont combinations. Our results show that higher salinities can convey increased thermotolerance in Aiptasia, although this effect seems to be dependent on the particular host strain and/or associated symbiont type. This finding may help explain the extraordinarily high thermotolerance of corals in high salinity environments, such as the Red Sea and the Persian/Arabian Gulf, and provides novel insight regarding factors that contribute to thermotolerance. Since our results are based on a salinity effect in symbiotic sea anemones, it remains to be determined whether this salinity effect can also be observed in stony corals.
Project description:Coral reefs provide habitats for a disproportionate number of marine species relative to the small area of the oceans that they occupy. The mutualism between the cnidarian animal hosts and their intracellular dinoflagellate symbionts provides the nutritional foundation for coral growth and formation of reef structures, because algal photosynthesis can provide >90% of the total energy of the host. Disruption of this symbiosis ("coral bleaching") is occurring on a large scale due primarily to anthropogenic factors and poses a major threat to the future of coral reefs. Despite the importance of this symbiosis, the cellular mechanisms involved in its establishment, maintenance, and breakdown remain largely unknown. We report our continued development of genomic tools to study these mechanisms in Aiptasia, a small sea anemone with great promise as a model system for studies of cnidarian-dinoflagellate symbiosis. Specifically, we have generated de novo assemblies of the transcriptomes of both a clonal line of symbiotic anemones and their endogenous dinoflagellate symbionts. We then compared transcript abundances in animals with and without dinoflagellates. This analysis identified >900 differentially expressed genes and allowed us to generate testable hypotheses about the cellular functions affected by symbiosis establishment. The differentially regulated transcripts include >60 encoding proteins that may play roles in transporting various nutrients between the symbiotic partners; many more encoding proteins functioning in several metabolic pathways, providing clues regarding how the transported nutrients may be used by the partners; and several encoding proteins that may be involved in host recognition and tolerance of the dinoflagellate.
Project description:BACKGROUND:The most diverse marine ecosystems, coral reefs, depend upon a functional symbiosis between cnidarian hosts and unicellular dinoflagellate algae. The molecular mechanisms underlying the establishment, maintenance, and breakdown of the symbiotic partnership are, however, not well understood. Efforts to dissect these questions have been slow, as corals are notoriously difficult to work with. In order to expedite this field of research, we generated and analyzed a collection of expressed sequence tags (ESTs) from the sea anemone Aiptasia pallida and its dinoflagellate symbiont (Symbiodinium sp.), a system that is gaining popularity as a model to study cellular, molecular, and genomic questions related to cnidarian-dinoflagellate symbioses. RESULTS:A set of 4,925 unique sequences (UniSeqs) comprising 1,427 clusters of 2 or more ESTs (contigs) and 3,498 unclustered ESTs (singletons) was generated by analyzing 10,285 high-quality ESTs from a mixed host/symbiont cDNA library. Using a BLAST-based approach to predict which unique sequences derived from the host versus symbiont genomes, we found that the contribution of the symbiont genome to the transcriptome was surprisingly small (1.6-6.4%). This may reflect low levels of gene expression in the symbionts, low coverage of alveolate genes in the sequence databases, a small number of symbiont cells relative to the total cellular content of the anemones, or failure to adequately lyse symbiont cells. Furthermore, we were able to identify groups of genes that are known or likely to play a role in cnidarian-dinoflagellate symbioses, including oxidative stress pathways that emerged as a prominent biological feature of this transcriptome. All ESTs and UniSeqs along with annotation results and other tools have been made accessible through the implementation of a publicly accessible database named AiptasiaBase. CONCLUSION:We have established the first large-scale transcriptomic resource for Aiptasia pallida and its dinoflagellate symbiont. These data provide researchers with tools to study questions related to cnidarian-dinoflagellate symbioses on a molecular, cellular, and genomic level. This groundwork represents a crucial step towards the establishment of a tractable model system that can be utilized to better understand cnidarian-dinoflagellate symbioses. With the advent of next-generation sequencing methods, the transcriptomic inventory of A. pallida and its symbiont, and thus the extent of AiptasiaBase, should expand dramatically in the near future.
Project description:The symbiotic relationship between cnidarians and dinoflagellates is the cornerstone of coral reef ecosystems. Although research has focused on the molecular mechanisms underlying this symbiosis, the role of epigenetic mechanisms, that is, the study of heritable changes that do not involve changes in the DNA sequence, is unknown. To assess the role of DNA methylation in the cnidarian-dinoflagellate symbiosis, we analyzed genome-wide CpG methylation, histone associations, and transcriptomic states of symbiotic and aposymbiotic anemones in the model system Aiptasia. We found that methylated genes are marked by histone 3 lysine 36 trimethylation (H3K36me3) and show significant reduction of spurious transcription and transcriptional noise, revealing a role of DNA methylation in the maintenance of transcriptional homeostasis. Changes in DNA methylation and expression show enrichment for symbiosis-related processes, such as immunity, apoptosis, phagocytosis recognition, and phagosome formation, and reveal intricate interactions between the underlying pathways. Our results demonstrate that DNA methylation provides an epigenetic mechanism of transcriptional homeostasis that responds to symbiosis.
Project description:Coral reefs are hotspots of oceanic biodiversity, forming the foundation of ecosystems that are important both ecologically and for their direct practical impacts on humans. Corals are declining globally due to a number of stressors, including rising sea-surface temperatures and pollution; such stresses can lead to a breakdown of the essential symbiotic relationship between the coral host and its endosymbiotic dinoflagellates, a process known as coral bleaching. Although the environmental stresses causing this breakdown are largely known, the cellular mechanisms of symbiosis establishment, maintenance, and breakdown are still largely obscure. Investigating the symbiosis using an experimentally tractable model organism, such as the small sea anemone Aiptasia, should improve our understanding of exactly how the environmental stressors affect coral survival and growth.We assembled the transcriptome of a clonal population of adult, aposymbiotic (dinoflagellate-free) Aiptasia pallida from ~208 million reads, yielding 58,018 contigs. We demonstrated that many of these contigs represent full-length or near-full-length transcripts that encode proteins similar to those from a diverse array of pathways in other organisms, including various metabolic enzymes, cytoskeletal proteins, and neuropeptide precursors. The contigs were annotated by sequence similarity, assigned GO terms, and scanned for conserved protein domains. We analyzed the frequency and types of single-nucleotide variants and estimated the size of the Aiptasia genome to be ~421 Mb. The contigs and annotations are available through NCBI (Transcription Shotgun Assembly database, accession numbers JV077153-JV134524) and at http://pringlelab.stanford.edu/projects.html.The availability of an extensive transcriptome assembly for A. pallida will facilitate analyses of gene-expression changes, identification of proteins of interest, and other studies in this important emerging model system.
Project description:Current research posits that all multicellular organisms live in symbioses with associated microorganisms and form so-called metaorganisms or holobionts. Cnidarian metaorganisms are of specific interest given that stony corals provide the foundation of the globally threatened coral reef ecosystems. To gain first insight into viruses associated with the coral model system Aiptasia (sensu Exaiptasia pallida), we analyzed an existing RNA-Seq dataset of aposymbiotic, partially populated, and fully symbiotic Aiptasia CC7 anemones with Symbiodinium. Our approach included the selective removal of anemone host and algal endosymbiont sequences and subsequent microbial sequence annotation. Of a total of 297 million raw sequence reads, 8.6 million (?3%) remained after host and endosymbiont sequence removal. Of these, 3,293 sequences could be assigned as of viral origin. Taxonomic annotation of these sequences suggests that Aiptasia is associated with a diverse viral community, comprising 116 viral taxa covering 40 families. The viral assemblage was dominated by viruses from the families Herpesviridae (12.00%), Partitiviridae (9.93%), and Picornaviridae (9.87%). Despite an overall stable viral assemblage, we found that some viral taxa exhibited significant changes in their relative abundance when Aiptasia engaged in a symbiotic relationship with Symbiodinium. Elucidation of viral taxa consistently present across all conditions revealed a core virome of 15 viral taxa from 11 viral families, encompassing many viruses previously reported as members of coral viromes. Despite the non-random selection of viral genetic material due to the nature of the sequencing data analyzed, our study provides a first insight into the viral community associated with Aiptasia. Similarities of the Aiptasia viral community with those of corals corroborate the application of Aiptasia as a model system to study coral holobionts. Further, the change in abundance of certain viral taxa across different symbiotic states suggests a role of viruses in the algal endosymbiosis, but the functional significance of this remains to be determined.