Communities of beneficial, commensal and opportunistic microbes are an integral part of most animals and together they may form an ecological unit, called the holobiont. Corals (Anthozoa, Cnidaria) are no exception and coral-microbiome interactions are assumed to play a key role in host’s resilience in a climate change scenario. However, our ability to benefit from such interactions in conservation practices is still limited due to our lack of understanding of the microbial functions that are indispensable for holobiont health and functioning.
In my talk, I will give an overview about our research on the microbiomes of temperate octocorals (Octocorallia) and present our latest study, in which we employed comparative metagenomics to uncover the distinct functional and phylogenetic features of the microbiomes of healthy and diseased Eunicella gazella tissues, healthy Eunicella verrucosa and Leptogorgia sarmentosa tissues, surrounding seawater, and sediments. Our analyses reveal that the octocoral microbiome is sharply distinct from environmental surroundings, is host genus-specific and undergoes complex structural changes in the transition to the dysbiotic state. We show that host-symbiont recognition, abiotic-stress response, micronutrient acquisition and sophisticated antiviral defence mechanisms are signatures of prokaryotic communities in octocorals. These features may contribute to the stabilization of symbiosis in the octocoral holobiont and constitute beneficial traits which can guide future studies on coral reef conservation and microbiome therapy.
iBB-Institute for Bioengineering and Biosciences & IST-Instituto Superior Técnico