DNA testing identifies suspect bacteria in coral reef disease

SALT LAKE CITY Using molecular microbiology techniques, scientists are a significant step closer to understanding and identifying the deadly microbes responsible for the mysterious black band disease that is destroying the worlds coral reef ecosystems.

One of the most destructive and widespread of the coral diseases, black band disease is characterized by a ring-shaped bacterial mat that rapidly migrates across a coral colony, leaving dead tissue and bare coral skeleton in its wake.

By sequencing the entire 16S rRNA gene a genetic fingerprint found in all living organisms geologist Bruce Fouke and postdoctoral microbiologist researchers Jorge

Frias-Lopez and George Bonheyo at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have now identified the main bacteria associated with the black band bacterial mat causing the disease.

The black band microbial mat is dominated by large filamentous cyanobacteria that were previously optically identified as Phormidium corallyticum, Fouke said. Based on the gene sequence analyses, however, we have identified at least three different closely related species of cyanobacteria associated with the bacterial black band mat in different ocean basins around the world.

In earlier work, Fouke and his colleagues showed that the bacteria inhabiting the

black-band disease microbial mat were different from those found either in healthy coral tissue or in the overlaying seawater. That work, which was based upon partial sequencing of bacterial 16S rRNA genes, appeared in the May 2002 issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

To make a more accurate identification of the cyanobacterium inhabiting the black band biomat, the researchers recently collected samples from infected corals on the reef tracts of Papua New Guinea in the Indo-Pacific Ocean and the Netherlands Antilles in the Caribbean Sea. Then they extracted the microbes 16S rRNA gene in their molecular geomicrobiology l

Contact: James E. Kloeppel
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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