Manuel Aranda

Principal Investigator

​Professor of Marine Science



2216, Building 2, Level 2, Sea Side.


I am an evolutionary biologist with a research background in molecular biology and coral reef genomics. I am generally interested in how interactions between organisms and their environment shape their genes and genomes over short and long periods of time.

Research Interests

Reef-building corals have evolved to become the foundation species of one of the most diverse and productive ecosystems of our planet. Their success is based on a symbiotic association with photosynthetic algae of the genus Symbiodinium that live inside their cells. This relationship allows corals to recycle their waste products in exchange for photosynthetically fixed carbon, thereby enabling them to thrive in the nutrient poor waters of tropical oceans.
While these fascinating organisms have endured hundreds of millions of years and survived multiple mass extinction events they are surprisingly sensitive to environmental perturbation, raising the question how such an ancient symbiotic relationship might have been formed and maintained throughout long evolutionary time scales. 
What is the evolutionary history of this relationship? How do such relationships come to be and what are the mechanisms that make them evolutionary stable? To address these questions we use functional genomics and genetics approaches to unravel the molecular underpinnings of this symbiosis and its stress induced break down. We use whole genome sequencing and comparative genomic approaches to gain insight into the evolutionary history of hosts and symbionts. We analyze the genes and associated functions they have to regulate all aspects of symbiosis and ask what this can tell us about the nature of this relationship. 
I believe that understanding the evolutionary history of this association is key to answering many of the pressing questions we have regarding these highly important ecosystem builders.
All these factors become even more important in the context of corals being long lived, sessile animals with long generation times. What are the mechanisms these organisms have to acclimate and adapt to these changing environmental conditions? 
Epigenetic mechanisms, such as DNA methylation and histone modifications, are likely candidates to modulate and optimize the phenotypic output encoded in the genome. These mechanisms might also be involved in regulating the pronounced phenotypic plasticity these organisms display, which, for instance, allows them to change their growth form according to the prevailing conditions of light and currents. Understanding these mechanisms might provide insights into the ability of corals to mitigate the effects of climate change and prove valuable venues for coral reef restoration.
Understanding all these factors will greatly contribute to our understanding of the ecological functions of this metaorganisms and help better understand their sensitivity to changes in their environment and allow us to project how coral-reefs will respond to short- and long term environmental changes such as those projected by climate change scenarios.

Selected Publications

  • Y. J. Liew, Y. Li, S. Baumgarten, C. R. Voolstra, M. Aranda (2017). “Condition-specific RNA editing in the coral symbiont Symbiodinium microadriaticum”. Plos Genetics 13(2): e1006619. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1006619​
  • M. Aranda#, Y. Li, Y. J. Liew, S. Baumgarten, O. Simakov, M. C. Wilson, J. Piel, H. Ashoor, S. Bougouffa, V. B. Bajic, T. Ryu, T. Ravasi, T. Bayer, G. Micklem, H. Kim, J. Bhak, T. C. LaJeunesse & C. R. Voolstra# (2016). “Genomes of coral dinoflagellate symbionts highlight evolutionary adaptations conducive to a symbiotic lifestyle”. Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 39734 (2016) doi:10.1038/srep39734
  • M. Aranda, M. K. DeSalvo, T. Bayer, M. Medina and C. R. Voolstra (2012). “Evolutionary insights into scleractinian corals using comparative genomic hybridizations”.  BMC Genomics 13:501 doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-501 
  • Genome Sequencing Consortium (2008). “The genome of the model beetle and pest Tribolium castaneum“. Nature 452(7190): 949‐955.
  • J. Savard, H. Marquez‐Souza, M. Aranda, D. Tautz (2006). “A Segmentation Gene in Tribolium Produces a Polycistronic mRNA that Codes for Multiple Conserved Peptides“. Cell 126(3): 559‐69. 


  • Ph.D.​: University of Cologne, Dept. of Evolutionary Genetics, D. Tautz; “Functional analysis of a homolog of the pair‐rule gene hairy in the short‐germ beetle Tribolium castaneum”. *magna cum laude* (2002-2006)
  • Diploma: University of Cologne, Dept. of Molecular Biology, Peter Dröge; “Analysis of the conservative sitespecific recombination”.​ (2000-2001)

Professional Profile

  • Associate Professor for "Marine Functional Genomics" at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Red Sea Research Center (01.07.2019 - current)
  • Assistant Professor for “Marine Functional Genomics” at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Red Sea Research Center (​01.11.2012 - 30.06.2019)
  • Senior Postdoctoral Research Fellow, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Red Sea Research Center. PI Christian R. Voolstra: Coral Reef Genomics (2009 – 2012)
  • Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Cologne, Germany; Dept. of Evolutionary Genetics, PI Diethard Tautz, as part of the Collaborative Research Centre (SFB680) “Molecular Basis of Evolutionary Innovations“ (2006 ‐ 2008)
  • Research Assistant, University of Cologne, Germany; Dept. of Evolutionary Genetics, PI Diethard Tautz, as part of the Collaborative Research Centre (SFB572) “Commitment of Cell Arrays and Cell Type Specification” (2002 ‐ 2006)
  • Scientific Assistant, University of Cologne, Germany; Dept. of Molecular Biology, PI Peter Dröge (2000 ‐ 2001)

Scientific and Professional Membership

  • Evo-Devo-Eco Network (EDEN)
  • International Society for Reef Studies (ISRS)
  • International Society for Microbial Ecology (ISME)
  • Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO)
  • Verband deutscher Biologen Vdbiol (Association of German biologists)
  • European Society of Evolutionary Developmental Biology (Euro Evo-Devo)


  • 2016    CCF (Center Competitive Funding) “Experimental Program” (Co-Lead PI)
  • 2015    Marine Microbiology Initiative, Moore Foundation “Screening dinoflagellate algae for transformability”. (Advisor)
  • 2014    CRG-3 grant “Chloroplast Engineering in Dinoflagellates” (PI)
  • 2014    CCF (Center Competitive Funding) “Epigenetic markers for environmental stress assessment in corals” (PI)
  • 2014    CCF (Center Competitive Funding) “Functional Ecology of Red Sea Corals” (Co-PI)
  • 2013    CRG-2 grant “FuncGen -Towards a Functional Genetics framework for Symbiodinium sp., the photosynthetic dinoflagellate symbiont of reef-building corals” (PI)
  • 2010    AEA grant “The genome sequence of the dinoflagellate Symbiodinium sp., a symbiont from Red Sea corals” (co-authored proposal)
  • 2010    Collaborative Travel Fund of the King Abdullah University
  • 2007    Crossroads in Biology - Cologne, Germany; Best Poster Prize
  • 2000    Student Award “Top 5 Student in Advanced Genetics”, University of Cologne, Germany

Research Interests Keywords

Genomics Symbiosis Epigenetics Molecular Biology