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Culture Studies

Cultures of coral symbionts exposed to thermal stress show systematic changes in the distribution of membrane and energy storage lipids, consistent with known thermal tolerance of different clades (Kneeland, Ph.D. thesis, 2011; Kneeland et al., 2013).  Similar results are seen in cultured coral fragments exposed to stress from elevated temperatures as well as bacterial pathogens (Cervino et al., 2008).  An on-going investigation of lipid changes in cultured coral symbionts is yielding insights into the cellular mechanisms of symbiont stress, including occurrence of apoptosis during coral thermal bleaching (Becker et al., in prep).

Healthy (left) and heat-stressed (right) Symbiodinium coral symbionts grown in culture.

Relevant Publications:

  • Becker, K., Hughen, K., Van Mooy, B., Reddy, C., Cervino, J., Lipid expression of symbiont stress and cellular mechanism for coral bleaching, (in preparation, to be submitted to Science).
  • Kneeland, J., Hughen, K., Cervino, J., Hauff, B., Eglinton, T., 2013, Lipid biomarkers in Symbiodinium dinoflagellates: new indices of thermal stress, Coral Reefs, doi: 10.1007/s00338-013-1076-3.
  • Kneeland, J.M., 2011, Lipid biomarkers of coral stress: calibration and exploration, Ph.D. Thesis, MIT/WHOI Joint Program.
  • Cervino, J., Thompson, F., Gómez-Gil, B., Lorence, E., Goreau, T., Hayes, R., Winiarski, K., Smith, G., Hughen, K., Bartells, E., 2008, The Vibrio Core Group Induces Yellow Band Disease in Caribbean and Indo-Pacific Reef Building Corals, Journal of Applied Microbiology doi:10.1111/j.1365-2672.2008.03871.x.

Funding provided by:

KAUST, WHOI Internal awards and Academic Programs, Coastal Preservation Network



  • Ben Van Mooy, MCG, WHOI
  • Chris Reddy, MCG, WHOI
  • Kevin Becker, MCG, WHOI
  • James Cervino, Coastal Preservation Network