Corals are of a great value to societies worldwide. Not only do they provide a beautiful, natural ecosystem for tourism, generating billions of dollars of income annually, but they also protect coastlines from turbulent waves and storms and are a critical habitat for many marine animals. Due to anthropogenic stressors, coral reefs are in a calamitous worldwide collapse. Rising sea temperatures cause the corals to expel their essential symbiotic algae, a process called “bleaching” that often results in death. Coral-associated bacteria and other microbes are also affected by warming oceans, but much less is understood their role in the coral’s response to heat stress. However, we are beginning to understand the ways in which corals recognize the presence of microbes to coordinate immune responses. By studying this phenomena, we can better understand coral health and the harmful effects of bleaching, and disease.
Our spotlight of the week is Mike Connelly! Mike is a Ph.D. student in the lab, and his research focuses on innate immunity and acute heat stress tolerance in corals. He is currently working at the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium in southern Taiwan conducting experiments using Pocillopora damicornis larvae and adult colony fragments collected from sites with stable and variable temperature regimes.
Happy Fourth of July to all of our fellow coral and cnidarian lovers out there! Wishing everyone a safe and fin-tastic holiday.
For this Spotlight of the Week meet Stephanie Chang! She recently graduated from Miami-Dade college with a degree in Biology. She is currently interning in our lab and working on a project that examines regeneration in Nematostella vectensis. To begin, the anemones are subjected to incision to remove part of their body. After this, Nematostella begin to regenerate lost appendages. By investigating different elements of this process, such as regeneration rates, cell proliferation, and apoptosis, we are able to understand more about how some organisms can regrow limbs.
Nematostella is a species that can reproduce asexually in isolation, creating clones with identical DNA for many generations. One family of clones will have slightly different DNA sequences than the next family of clones. Knowing this, if genetic differences influence regenerative abilities, then each group of clones will have different regeneration rates. Then, by isolating the different regions of DNA, we can determine which sequences make for more successful regenerative properties.
To test this theory, groups of different clones are all cut below the mesenteries (digestive track area) and the rate at which each individual recovers their respective missing structure is tracked.
This study can be used to examine the effects of environmental stressors with cnidarian response and immunity. It also has applications in several fields of science, including medicine.
The first picture is of Stephanie, second is of the anemone 24 hours after the initial incision, third is after 72 hours, and the fourth is after 144 hours. If you look carefully, you can see the growth and regeneration beginning!
Keep it up Steph!
Our first spotlight of the week is our Principal Investigator- Dr. Nikki Traylor-Knowles! Dr. Traylor-Knowles received her Ph.D. in Biology from Boston University. She did her Post Doc at Stanford University studying heat stress tolerance and immunity in corals, and joined the faculty at RSMAS in February 2016. She currently works as an Assistant Professor at the University of Miami and is the head of our lab. “I do this work because I am passionate about coral reefs and understanding how things work. I enjoy a good mystery, and everyday in my profession I am confronted with new mysteries that intrigue (and frustrate) me. My lab is striving to understand how the coral immune systems are able to deal with climate change, and other human impacts. Through this work, we hope to be able to develop biomarkers for assessing coral health.” -Nikki