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


Documentary "Climate change: Could Red Sea corals save the world’s reefs?" by Alexis Barbier-Bouvet and this team featuring our lab's research published on France24​​​​​​​​​      ​
Maha Cziesielski came to KAUST in 2014 as an intern in the Coral Symbiomics lab. During her internship she worked on the cnidarian symbiosis model system, the small sea anemone Aiptasia. Like corals, Aiptasia lives in symbiosis with the algae Symbiodiniaceae. She quickly developed an interest for the fine tuned and highly complex molecular mechanisms that underlie cnidarian symbiosis. Thus, she returned to KAUST in 2015 to begin her PhD studies.
The KAUST Research Conference: "Securing a Future for Red Sea Ecosystems" brings together experts from academia, industry and government to discuss the current state of research and to develop feasible strategies to improve current mitigation and restoration methods. This event aims to produce a set of targeted strategies that are sustainable, socioeconomically acceptable and aligned with public, academic, industry, and government interests.
​Aranda Lab presents at the ALSO conference in Puerto Rico recent studies in epigenetics and assisted evolution. 
​It's a week of graduation celebrations at Aranda Lab !!. As many as five students graduated this year from our lab, successfully stepping into next stage of their career! Smiles all around :-)
​Post-doctoral fellow Arun Prasanna and Prof. Manuel Aranda won research funding through “Competitive Research Grant (CRG)” starting 2019.
Thesis title: Unravelling the metabolic interactions of the Aiptasia-Symbiodiniaceae symbiosis.
Diving into the Red Sea Research with Céline Cousteau 
Assistant Professor Manuel Aranda from will be one of the panelists at the Sci-Café event on the theme of Extreme Marine Environments. Watch live on our KAUST Official Facebook page on Wednesday, October 17 at 4:00pm.
 She presented her work on epigenetics, particularly histone modifications, and how this knowledge can aid us in training corals to have higher thermal resilience.
Manuel Aranda, a marine scientist at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia and the author of two studies published in June and August in the journal Science Advances, thinks the first warming event activates genes that prime the coral to cope with the next round of heat stress.
Wang Xin defended his thesis with presentation focussing on "How corals got bone -- comparative genomics reveals the evolution of coral calcification"
​The chapter is called: For a World without Boundaries: Connectivity between marine tropical ecosystems in times of change.
It is focused on understanding climate change impacts such as rising sea levels, acidifcation and temperature on mangroves, seagrasses and coral reefs. We then discuss how these three ecosystems are connected and hence, a downfall in one will lead to loss and degradation in another.
​Prof. Manuel Aranda interviewed by Paul Ross on the TalkRadio show. The interview was broadcasted live and is only 10min long, check the last slot 4:30-5:00 am starting around minute 2:22.
​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.

Reef Recovery on Magnetic Island is an innovative project in partnership with government, researchers, industry and community that aims to make a positive environmental, social and economic benefit for our local reefs and communities. The project activities focus on the manual removal of overgrowing, weedy macroalgal on the fringing reefs of Magnetic Island. Magnetic Island nearshore reefs are home to substantial seaweed, potentially greater than historical levels. Reef Ecologic’s research permits which allow controlled collection of a limited amount seaweed to allow future corals space to grow and for juvenile corals to settle. While macroalgae is crucial for reef health, too much of it can upset the fine ecological balance of coral reefs (see science below).

The project has environmental, social and economic benefits for the reef, community and industry. The potential environmental benefit of the Reef Recovery project are associated with improving future inshore coral reef health by removing seaweed.The seaweed we collect is measured and weighed and then taken to the Magnetic island Reef Guardian school for use as compost. The project aims to provide opportunities for visitors and the community to learn about and engage in inshore reef recovery and is an examples of positive stewardship where individuals and groups can make a difference at a local, reef and global scale.

​The ISS Congress is the sanctioned meeting of the International Symbiosis Society and is held every three years. It is the primary international meeting focusing on symbioses, including complex interactions between hosts and their microbiomes.  The Congress is anticipated to bring together 400 symbiosis scientists from up to 20 nations to present the latest research in symbioses, their ubiquity in nature and their impact on all environments on the planet.  The primary aim of the ISS is to support and promote the dissemination of knowledge and understanding of symbioses, both to the research community and wider public, and so highlight the widespread ecological and socio-economic importance of symbioses for the public good.
​There are increasing concerns that the current rate of climate change might outpace the ability of reef-building corals to adapt to future conditions. Work on model systems has shown that environmentally induced alterations in DNA methylation can lead to phenotypic acclimatization. While DNA methylation has been reported in corals and is thought to associate with phenotypic plasticity, potential mechanisms linked to changes in whole-genome methylation have yet to be elucidated. We show that DNA methylation significantly reduces spurious transcription in the coral Stylophora pistillata. Furthermore, we find that DNA methylation also reduces transcriptional noise by fine-tuning the expression of highly expressed genes. Analysis of DNA methylation patterns of corals subjected to long-term pH stress showed widespread changes in pathways regulating cell cycle and body size. Correspondingly, we found significant increases in cell and polyp sizes that resulted in more porous skeletons, supporting the hypothesis that linear extension rates are maintained under conditions of reduced calcification. These findings suggest an epigenetic component in phenotypic acclimatization that provides corals with an additional mechanism to cope with environmental change.
​Maha's work offers an angle of hope for understanding coral temperature tolerance and duly recognized in BBC News feature !
​Corals and their endosymbiotic dinoflagellates of the genus Symbiodinium have a fragile relationship that breaks down under heat stress, an event known as bleaching. However, many coral species have adapted to high temperature environments such as the Red Sea (RS). To investigate mechanisms underlying temperature adaptation in zooxanthellate cnidarians we compared transcriptome- and proteome-wide heat stress response (24 h at 32°C) of three strains of the model organism Aiptasia pallida from regions with differing temperature profiles; North Carolina (CC7), Hawaii (H2) and the RS. Correlations between transcript and protein levels were generally low but inter-strain comparisons highlighted a common core cnidarian response to heat stress, including protein folding and oxidative stress pathways. RS anemones showed the strongest increase in antioxidant gene expression and exhibited significantly lower reactive oxygen species (ROS) levels in hospite. However, comparisons of antioxidant gene and protein expression between strains did not show strong differences, indicating similar antioxidant capacity across the strains. Subsequent analysis of ROS production in isolated symbionts confirmed that the observed differences of ROS levels in hospite were symbiont-driven. Our findings indicate that RS anemones do not show increased antioxidant capacity but may have adapted to higher temperatures through association with more thermally tolerant symbionts.
Maha attends YOUMARES 8, and wins 3rd best talk there.
The European Coral Reef Symposium is now open accepting abstracts and registrations!
PLOS Genetics paper on nuclear RNA editing in dinoflagellates was featured in the KAUST Discovery Magazine
Manuel was one of six KAUST professors nominated for teaching award
Publication details the genomes of two corallimopharian genomes, the closest non-calcifying relatives of reef-building corals.
Six-week SRSI internship under the tutelage of Noura and Manuel produced magnificent results at IBDAA 2017.
​Manuel Aranda was one of nine invited speakers at the inaugural TEDx event in KAUST.​
Making science more appealing to schoolchildren!
A poster and a talk was presented at this conference by two members of the Symbiomics Lab.
Availability of other dinoflagellate genomes allow comparative efforts to pick out genes essential for their livestyles
Members of the lab attended the quadriennial ICRS conference, this time in Hawaii.​