DNA methylation regulates transcriptional homeostasis of algal endosymbiosis in the coral model Aiptasia.
ABSTRACT: 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: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:Pale anemones (Aiptasia pallida) coexist with dinoflagellates (primarily Symbiodinium minutum) in a mutualistic relationship. The purpose of this study was to investigate the role of these symbionts in gonad development of anemone hosts. Symbiotic and aposymbiotic anemones were subjected to light cycles that induced gametogenesis. These anemones were then sampled weekly for nine weeks, and gonad development was analyzed histologically. Anemone size was measured as mean body column diameter, and oocytes or sperm follicles were counted for each anemone. Generalized linear models were used to evaluate the influence of body size and symbiotic status on whether gonads were present and on the number of oocytes or sperm follicles produced. Body size predicted whether gonads were present, with larger anemones being more likely than smaller anemones to develop gonads. Both body size and symbiotic status predicted gonad size, such that larger and symbiotic anemones produced more oocytes and sperm follicles than smaller and aposymbiotic anemones. Overall, only 22 % of aposymbiotic females produced oocytes, whereas 63 % of symbiotic females produced oocytes. Similarly, 6 % of aposymbiotic males produced sperm follicles, whereas 60 % of symbiotic males produced sperm follicles. Thus, while gonads were present in 62 % of symbiotic anemones, they were present in only 11 % of aposymbiotic anemones. These results indicate that dinoflagellate symbionts influence gonad development and thus sexual maturation in both female and male Aiptasia pallida anemones. This finding substantiates and expands our current understanding of the importance of symbionts in the development and physiology of cnidarian hosts.
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:BACKGROUND:All organisms employ biological clocks to anticipate physical changes in the environment; however, the integration of biological clocks in symbiotic systems has received limited attention. In corals, the interpretation of rhythmic behaviours is complicated by the daily oscillations in tissue oxygen tension resulting from the photosynthetic and respiratory activities of the associated algal endosymbiont Symbiodinium. In order to better understand the integration of biological clocks in cnidarian hosts of Symbiodinium, daily rhythms of behaviour and gene expression were studied in symbiotic and aposymbiotic morphs of the sea-anemone Aiptasia diaphana. RESULTS:The results showed that whereas circatidal (approx. 12-h) cycles of activity and gene expression predominated in aposymbiotic morphs, circadian (approx. 24-h) patterns were the more common in symbiotic morphs, where the expression of a significant number of genes shifted from a 12- to 24-h rhythm. The behavioural experiments on symbiotic A. diaphana displayed diel (24-h) rhythmicity in body and tentacle contraction under the light/dark cycles, whereas aposymbiotic morphs showed approximately 12-h (circatidal) rhythmicity. Reinfection experiments represent an important step in understanding the hierarchy of endogenous clocks in symbiotic associations, where the aposymbiotic Aiptasia morphs returned to a 24-h behavioural rhythm after repopulation with algae. CONCLUSION:Whilst some modification of host metabolism is to be expected, the extent to which the presence of the algae modified host endogenous behavioural and transcriptional rhythms implies that it is the symbionts that influence the pace. Our results clearly demonstrate the importance of the endosymbiotic algae in determining the timing and the duration of the extension and contraction of the body and tentacles and temporal gene expression.
Project description:Extreme weather events frequency and scale are altered due to climate change. Symbiosis between corals and their endosymbiotic-dinoflagellates (Symbiodinium) is susceptible to these events and can lead to what is known as bleaching. However, there is evidence for coral adaptive plasticity in the role of epigenetic that have acclimated to high-temperature environments. We have implemented ATAC-seq and RNA-seq to study the cnidarian-dinoflagellate model Exaptasia pallida (Aiptasia) and expose the role of chromatin-dynamics in response to thermal-stress. We have identified 1309 genomic sites that change their accessibility in response to thermal changes. Moreover, apo-symbiotic Aiptasia accessible sites were enriched with NFAT, ATF4, GATA3, SOX14, and PAX3 motifs and expressed genes related to immunological pathways. Symbiotic Aiptasia accessible sites were enriched with NKx3-1, HNF4A, IRF4 motifs and expressed genes related to oxidative-stress pathways. Our work opens a new path towards understanding thermal-stress gene regulation in association with gene activity and chromatin-dynamics.
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:Coral reef ecosystems are metabolically founded on the mutualism between corals and photosynthetic dinoflagellates of the genus Symbiodinium. The glass anemone Aiptasia sp. has become a tractable model for this symbiosis. We utilized label-free liquid chromatography electrospray-ionization tandem mass spectrometry to analyze the effects of symbiosis on the proteomes of symbiotic and aposymbiotic Aiptasia. We quantified more than 3,300 proteins in 1,578 protein clusters, with 81 protein clusters showing significantly different expression. Symbiotic anemones showed higher expression of proteins involved in lipid storage and transport, nitrogen transport and cycling, intracellular trafficking, endocytosis and inorganic carbon transport. These changes reflect shifts in host metabolism and energy reserves due to increased organic and inorganic nutritional exchange with the symbionts. Aposymbiotic anemones exhibited increased expression of multiple systems responsible for mediating reactive oxygen stress, suggesting that the host derives direct or indirect protection from oxidative stress while in symbiosis. Aposymbiotic anemones also increased their expression of an array of proteases and chitinases, indicating a metabolic shift from autotrophy to heterotrophy. These results provide a comprehensive Aiptasia proteome with more direct relative quantification of protein abundance than transcriptomic methods, allowing more powerful studies of coral physiology and ecosystem function.
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.
Project description: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.