Coral Reefs

, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 463-474

First online:

Screening by coral green fluorescent protein (GFP)-like chromoproteins supports a role in photoprotection of zooxanthellae

  • E. G. SmithAffiliated withNational Oceanography Centre, University of SouthamptonNew York University, Abu Dhabi
  • , C. D’AngeloAffiliated withNational Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton
  • , A. SalihAffiliated withSchool of Science and Health, University of Western Sydney
  • , J. WiedenmannAffiliated withOcean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre, Southampton/University of Southampton Email author 

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Green fluorescent protein (GFP)-like pigments are responsible for the vivid colouration of many reef-building corals and have been proposed to act as photoprotectants. Their role remains controversial because the functional mechanism has not been elucidated. We provide direct evidence to support a photoprotective role of the non-fluorescent chromoproteins (CPs) that form a biochemically and photophysically distinct group of GFP-like proteins. Based on observations of Acropora nobilis from the Great Barrier Reef, we explored the photoprotective role of CPs by analysing five coral species under controlled conditions. In vitro and in hospite analyses of chlorophyll excitation demonstrate that screening by CPs leads to a reduction in chlorophyll excitation corresponding to the spectral properties of the specific CPs present in the coral tissues. Between 562 and 586 nm, the CPs maximal absorption range, there was an up to 50 % reduction of chlorophyll excitation. The screening was consistent for established and regenerating tissue and amongst symbiont clades A, C and D. Moreover, among two differently pigmented morphs of Acropora valida grown under identical light conditions and hosting subclade type C3 symbionts, high CP expression correlated with reduced photodamage under acute light stress.


Green fluorescent protein (GFP)-like proteins Chromoproteins Function Photoprotection Growth Coral-zooxanthellae symbiosis