Marine Biotechnology

, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 166–180 | Cite as

Gene Expression of a Green Fluorescent Protein Homolog as a Host-Specific Biomarker of Heat Stress Within a Reef-Building Coral

  • C. Smith-KeuneEmail author
  • S. Dove
Original Article


Recent incidences of mass coral bleaching indicate that major reef building corals are increasingly suffering thermal stress associated with climate-related temperature increases. The development of pulse amplitude modulated (PAM) fluorometry has enabled rapid detection of the onset of thermal stress within coral algal symbionts, but sensitive biomarkers of thermal stress specific to the host coral have been slower to emerge. Differential display reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (DDRT-PCR) was used to produce fingerprints of gene expression for the reef-building coral Acropora millepora exposed to 33°C. Changes in the expression of 23 out of 399 putative genes occurred within 144 h. Down-regulation of one host-specific gene (AmA1a) occurred within just 6 h. Full-length sequencing revealed the product of this gene to be an all-protein chromatophore (green fluorescent protein [GFP]-homolog). RT-PCR revealed consistent down-regulation of this GFP-homolog for three replicate colonies within 6 h at both 32°C and 33°C but not at lower temperatures. Down-regulation of this host gene preceded significant decreases in the photosynthetic activity of photosystem II (dark-adapted F v/F m) of algal symbionts as measured by PAM fluorometry. Gene expression of host-specific genes such as GFP-homologs may therefore prove to be highly sensitive indicators for the onset of thermal stress within host coral cells.


biomarkers coral bleaching differential display gene expression green fluorescent protein host pigments 



We thank Prof. O. Hoegh-Guldberg and staff and students at the Centre for Marine Studies; Dr. M. van Oppen, Dr. A. Klueter, and Dr. Dean Jerry for reading and commenting on manuscript drafts; and Dr. R. Berkelmans for assistance with field collection of corals. We acknowledge an Australian Institute of Marine Science Supplementary Research award to C. Smith and ARC grant to S. Dove and O. Hoegh-Guldberg for research funds.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Marine Studies, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef StudiesUniversity of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia
  2. 2.Australian Institute of Marine Science, PMB 3TownsvilleAustralia

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