Lineage-specific transcriptional profiles of Symbiodinium spp. Unaltered by heat stress in a coral host

Daniel J. Barshis, Jason T. Ladner, Thomas A. Oliver, Stephen R. Palumbi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Scopus citations


Dinoflagellates of the genus Symbiodinium form an endosymbiosis with reef building corals, in which photosynthetically derived nutrients comprise the majority of the coral energy budget. An extraordinary amount of functional and genetic diversity is contained within the coral-associated Symbiodinium, with some phylotypes (i.e., genotypic groupings), conferring enhanced stress tolerance to host corals. Recent advances in DNA sequencing technologies have enabled transcriptome-wide profiling of the stress response of the cnidarian coral host; however, a comprehensive understanding of the molecular response to stress of coral-associated Symbiodinium, as well as differences among physiologically susceptible and tolerant types, remains largely unexplored. Here, we examine the transcriptome-wide response to heat stress via RNA-Seq of two types of Symbiodinium, the putatively thermotolerant type D2 and the more susceptible type C3K, resident within the same coral host species, Acropora hyacinthus. Contrary to previous findings with coral hosts, we find no detectable change in gene expression across the dinoflagellate transcriptome after 3 days of elevated thermal exposure, despite physical evidence of symbiosis breakdown. However, hundreds of genes identified as orthologs between the C and D types exhibited significant expression differences within treatments (i.e., attributable solely to type, not heat exposure). These include many genes related to known thermotolerance mechanisms including heat shock proteins and chloroplast membrane components. Additionally, both the between-treatment similarities and between-type differences remained pervasive after 12-18 months of common garden acclimation and in mixed Symbiodinium assemblages within the same coral host colony.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1343-1352
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Symbiodinium
  • coral
  • thermal stress
  • transcriptomics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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