Coral disease is a global problem. Diseases are typically named or described based on macroscopic changes, but broad signs of coral distress such as tissue loss or discoloration are unlikely to be specific to a particular pathogen. For example, there appear to be multiple diseases that manifest the rapid tissue loss that characterizes ‘white plague.’ PhyloChip™ G3 microarrays were used to compare the bacterial community composition of both healthy and white plague-like diseased corals. Samples of lobed star coral (Orbicella annularis, formerly of the genus Montastraea ) were collected from two geographically distinct areas, Dry Tortugas National Park and Virgin Islands National Park, to determine if there were biogeographic differences between the diseases. In fact, all diseased samples clustered together, however there was no consistent link to Aurantimonas coralicida, which has been described as the causative agent of white plague type II. The microarrays revealed a large amount of bacterial heterogeneity within the healthy corals and less diversity in the diseased corals. Gram-positive bacterial groups (Actinobacteria, Firmicutes) comprised a greater proportion of the operational taxonomic units (OTUs) unique to healthy samples. Diseased samples were enriched in OTUs from the families Corynebacteriaceae, Lachnospiraceae, Rhodobacteraceae, and Streptococcaceae. Much previous coral disease work has used clone libraries, which seem to be methodologically biased toward recovery of Gram-negative bacterial sequences and may therefore have missed the importance of Gram-positive groups. The PhyloChip™data presented here provide a broader characterization of the bacterial community changes that occur within Orbicella annularis during the shift from a healthy to diseased state.
Additional publication details
Comparing bacterial community composition between healthy and white plague-like disease states in Orbicella annularis using PhyloChip™ G3 microarrays