In collaboration with Greta Aeby of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB), we have recently begun investigating the roles of microbes in coral health. Healthy coral harbor a specific set of bacteria that is conserved among similar coral. The types of bacteria, their locations in the coral animal and their potential roles in coral health are focuses of current studies.
Bacteria are also the cause of several diseases that affect corals. Montipora white syndrome (MWS) is a progressive tissue loss disease found on reefs throughout the Hawaiian archipelago and is particularly prevalent in Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, where Montipora capitata is ubiquitous.
We have developed a model coral disease system that is being used to explore many components of the host, pathogen and environment triangle of disease causation.
In laboratory infection assays a range of bacteria are capable of recreating MWS. These bacteria have been developed as genetic systems, and genetic screens are being used to identify virulence factors in a step towards understanding the disease process. To see a time-lapse movie of disease progression in the lab click on the image below.