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Characterisation of coral explants: a model organism for cnidarian–dinoflagellate studies

Abstract

Coral cell cultures made from reef-building scleractinian corals have the potential to aid in the pursuit of understanding of the cnidarian–dinoflagellate symbiosis. Various methods have previously been described for the production of cell cultures in vitro with a range of success and longevity. In this study, viable tissue spheroids containing host tissue and symbionts (coral explants) were grown from the tissues of Fungia granulosa. The cultured explants remained viable for over 2 months and showed morphological similarities in tissue structure and internal microenvironment to reef-building scleractinian corals. The photophysiology of the explants (1 week old) closely matched that of the parent coral F. granulosa. This study provides the first empirical basis for supporting the use of coral explants as laboratory models for studying coral symbioses. In particular, it highlights how these small, self-sustaining, skeleton-free models can be useful for a number of molecular, genetic and physiological analyses necessary for investigating host–symbiont interactions at the microscale.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestion for improvements on the manuscript. We would like to also extend thanks to Cheryl Woodley, Sylvia Galloway, Athena Burnett, Lisa May and Esti Winter (NOAA Charlestown, USA) for their advice on explant culture methodology. We are grateful for the technical assistance of Michael Johnson and Catherine Gorrie from the University of Technology Sydney. Corals were collected under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority permits G11/34670.1 and G09/31733.1 issued to PJR. SG was supported by an Australian Postgraduate Award (APA), and research funding was provided by the Plant Functional Biology and Climate Change Cluster (C3) and the School of the Environment, University of Technology Sydney.

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Correspondence to K. Petrou.

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Communicated by Handling Editor Ruth Gates

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Gardner, S.G., Nielsen, D.A., Petrou, K. et al. Characterisation of coral explants: a model organism for cnidarian–dinoflagellate studies. Coral Reefs 34, 133–142 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-014-1240-4

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Keywords

  • Explant culture
  • Cnidarian–dinoflagellate symbiosis
  • Symbiodinium
  • Photophysiology
  • Respiration