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Exaiptasia diaphana from the great barrier reef: a valuable resource for coral symbiosis research

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The sea anemone, Exaiptasia diaphana, previously known as Exaiptasia pallida or Aiptasia pallida, has become increasingly popular as a model for cnidarian-microbiome symbiosis studies due to its relatively rapid growth, ability to reproduce sexually and asexually, and symbiosis with diverse prokaryotes and the same microalgal symbionts (family Symbiodiniaceae) as its coral relatives. Clonal E. diaphana strains from Hawaii, the Atlantic Ocean, and Red Sea are now established for use in research. Here, we introduce Great Barrier Reef (GBR)-sourced E. diaphana strains as additions to the model repertoire. Sequencing of the 18S rRNA gene confirmed the anemones to be E. diaphana while genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism analysis revealed four distinct genotypes. Based on Exaiptasia-specific inter-simple sequence repeat (ISSR)-derived sequence characterized amplified region (SCAR) marker and gene loci data, these four E. diaphana genotypes are distributed across several divergent phylogenetic clades with no clear phylogeographical pattern. The GBR E. diaphana genotypes comprised three females and one male, which all host Breviolum minutum as their homologous Symbiodiniaceae endosymbiont. When acclimating to an increase in light levels from 12 to 28 μmol photons m−2 s−1, the genotypes exhibited significant variation in maximum quantum yield of Symbiodiniaceae photosystem II and Symbiodiniaceae cell density. The comparatively high levels of physiological and genetic variability among GBR anemone genotypes make these animals representative of global E. diaphana diversity and thus excellent model organisms. The addition of these GBR strains to the worldwide E. diaphana collection will contribute to cnidarian symbiosis research, particularly in relation to the climate resilience of coral reefs.

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This research was funded by Australian Research Council Discovery Project grants DP160101468 (to MJHvO and LLB) and DP160101539 (to GIM and MJHvO). We thank Lesa Peplow for facilitating transport of the initial anemone cultures from AIMS to SUT and UoM and Rebecca Alfred from SUT for initial anemone culture maintenance. We acknowledge Anton Cozijnsen, Keren Maor-Landaw, Samantha Girvan, Ruby Vanstone and Gabriela Rodriguez from University of Melbourne for assisting with anemone husbandry and Laura Leone, Lisa Foster, and Lona Dinha from the Melbourne Histology Platform for histological sample preparation and sectioning. SCAR marker reference sequences were provided by Dan Thornhill and Liz Hambleton (AG Guse Lab, Centre for Organismal Studies (COS), Universität Heidelberg). MJHvO acknowledges Australian Research Council Laureate Fellowship FL180100036.

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Dungan, A.M., Hartman, L.M., Tortorelli, G. et al. Exaiptasia diaphana from the great barrier reef: a valuable resource for coral symbiosis research. Symbiosis (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13199-020-00665-0

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  • Symbiosis
  • Exaiptasia diaphana
  • Exaiptasia pallida
  • Model system
  • Physiology
  • Symbiodiniaceae