Research ArticleCORAL REEFS

The role of floridoside in osmoadaptation of coral-associated algal endosymbionts to high-salinity conditions

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Science Advances  16 Aug 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 8, e1602047
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1602047

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The endosymbiosis between Symbiodinium dinoflagellates and stony corals provides the foundation of coral reef ecosystems. The survival of these ecosystems is under threat at a global scale, and better knowledge is needed to conceive strategies for mitigating future reef loss. Environmental disturbance imposing temperature, salinity, and nutrient stress can lead to the loss of the Symbiodinium partner, causing so-called coral bleaching. Some of the most thermotolerant coral-Symbiodinium associations occur in the Persian/Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea, which also represent the most saline coral habitats. We studied whether Symbiodinium alter their metabolite content in response to high-salinity environments. We found that Symbiodinium cells exposed to high salinity produced high levels of the osmolyte 2-O-glycerol-α-d-galactopyranoside (floridoside), both in vitro and in their coral host animals, thereby increasing their capacity and, putatively, the capacity of the holobiont to cope with the effects of osmotic stress in extreme environments. Given that floridoside has been previously shown to also act as an antioxidant, this osmolyte may serve a dual function: first, to serve as a compatible organic osmolyte accumulated by Symbiodinium in response to elevated salinities and, second, to counter reactive oxygen species produced as a consequence of potential salinity and heat stress.

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