The Coral Symbiomics Lab
Red Sea Research Center
Division of Biological and Environmental Science and Engineering

Publications in 2017

Association of coral algal symbionts with a diverse viral community responsive to heat shock

​Brüwer, J. D., S. Agrawal, Y. J. Liew, M. Aranda, and C. R. Voolstra. "Association of Coral Algal Symbionts with a Diverse Viral Community Responsive to Heat Shock." BMC Microbiology 17, no. 1 (2017).
Brüwer J. D., Agrawal S., Liew Y. J., Aranda M., Voolstra C. R.
RNA-Seq, Transcriptomics, Virus, Symbiodinium, Coral reef, Heat shock, Climate change
2017
​Stony corals provide the structural foundation of coral reef ecosystems and are termed holobionts given they engage in symbioses, in particular with photosynthetic dinoflagellates of the genus Symbiodinium. Besides Symbiodinium, corals also engage with bacteria affecting metabolism, immunity, and resilience of the coral holobiont, but the role of associated viruses is largely unknown. In this regard, the increase of studies using RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq) to assess gene expression provides an opportunity to elucidate viral signatures encompassed within the data via careful delineation of sequence reads and their source of origin. Results: Here, we re-analyzed an RNA-Seq dataset from a cultured coral symbiont (Symbiodinium microadriaticum, Clade A1) across four experimental treatments (control, cold shock, heat shock, dark shock) to characterize associated viral diversity, abundance, and gene expression. Our approach comprised the filtering and removal of host sequence reads, subsequent phylogenetic assignment of sequence reads of putative viral origin, and the assembly and analysis of differentially expressed viral genes. About 15.46% (123 million) of all sequence reads were non-host-related, of which <1% could be classified as archaea, bacteria, or virus. Of these, 18.78% were annotated as virus and comprised a diverse community consistent across experimental treatments. Further, non-host related sequence reads assembled into 56,064 contigs, including 4856 contigs of putative viral origin that featured 43 differentially expressed genes during heat shock. The differentially expressed genes included viral kinases, ubiquitin, and ankyrin repeat proteins (amongst others), which are suggested to help the virus proliferate and inhibit the algal host's antiviral response. Conclusion: Our results suggest that a diverse viral community is associated with coral algal endosymbionts of the genus Symbiodinium, which prompts further research on their ecological role in coral health and resilience.