Assessing the impacts of experimentally elevated temperature on the biological composition and molecular chaperone gene expression of a reef coral.
Due to the potential for increasing ocean temperatures to detrimentally impact reef-building corals, there is an urgent need to better understand not only the coral thermal stress response, but also natural variation in their sub-cellular composition. To address this issue, while simultaneously developing a molecular platform for studying one of the most common Taiwanese reef corals, Seriatopora hystrix, 1,092 cDNA clones were sequenced and characterized. Subsequently, RNA, DNA and protein were extracted sequentially from colonies exposed to elevated (30°C) temperature for 48 hours. From the RNA phase, a heat shock protein-70 (hsp70)-like gene, deemed hsp/c, was identified in the coral host, and expression of this gene was measured with real-time quantitative PCR (qPCR) in both the host anthozoan and endosymbiotic dinoflagellates (genus Symbiodinium). While mRNA levels were not affected by temperature in either member, hsp/c expression was temporally variable in both and co-varied within biopsies. From the DNA phase, host and Symbiodinium hsp/c genome copy proportions (GCPs) were calculated to track changes in the biological composition of the holobiont during the experiment. While there was no temperature effect on either host or Symbiodinium GCP, both demonstrated significant temporal variation. Finally, total soluble protein was responsive to neither temperature nor exposure time, though the protein/DNA ratio varied significantly over time. Collectively, it appears that time, and not temperature, is a more important driver of the variation in these parameters, highlighting the need to consider natural variation in both gene expression and the molecular make-up of coral holobionts when conducting manipulative studies. This represents the first study to survey multiple macromolecules from both compartments of an endosymbiotic organism with methodologies that reflect their dual-compartmental nature, ideally generating a framework for assessing molecular-level changes within corals and other endosymbioses exposed to changes in their environment.