[Seminar] The Intricate Dance of Coral Symbiosis: A Journey Through Partnership, Competition, and Environmental Challenges


Monday, October 16, 2023 - 14:00 to 15:00


Lab4 L4F01 Seminar Room


Seminar title: The Intricate Dance of Coral Symbiosis: A Journey Through Partnership, Competition, and Environmental Challenges


Professor Manuel Aranda, Professor of Marine Science, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)


Coral reefs serve as a masterclass in ecological efficiency and evolutionary resilience. These highly productive and biodiverse ecosystems exist in one of the most nutrient-poor environments on our planet, a phenomenon known as Darwin’s paradox. At the heart of these ecosystems are reef-building corals that form the structural and trophic foundation. The metabolic symbiosis between corals and their photosynthetic dinoflagellate endosymbionts allows them not only to thrive in the oligotrophic environments of tropical seas, but to build the largest living structures on earth. Yet, while this symbiotic relationship is instrumental for the ecological success of corals and other symbiotic cnidarians, it is also their Achilles heel. Elevated temperatures, pollution, and other anthropogenic disturbances can lead to metabolic imbalances between the partners and send ripples through this well-orchestrated relationship. Consequently, coral reef ecosystems have experienced massive declines in the Anthropocene, and more than 50% of our coral reefs have already been lost. To understand why corals are so sensitive to environmental changes and find ways to mitigate the impacts of climate change it is critical to understand the nature of this partnership and how it works on the molecular level. This seminar aims to synthesize a body of research that peels back the layers of coral symbiosis, revealing the complex molecular interactions that control these remarkable “communities” and allow them to thrive while simultaneously making them vulnerable to environmental change. Using the sea anemone Aiptasia as a model for coral symbiosis, we explore the intricate molecular mechanisms that establish sustainable nutrient cycling, effective energy transfer, and balanced growth within nutrient poor environments. Generalizing beyond Aiptasia, we show that these molecular mechanisms are conserved across a range of symbiotic cnidarians, which explains the repeated evolution of these symbiotic associations. Attendees will hopefully leave with a newfound appreciation for the complexity and vulnerability of coral symbiosis and its irreplaceable role in the health of our oceans.


Dr. Aranda is a Professor of Marine Sciences at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia. He earned his Ph.D. in 2006, focusing on the evolution of gene regulatory networks in insects. Over the years, he has pivoted his research toward the fascinating world of coral reefs, blending his background in molecular biology, evolutionary genetics, and genomics.

He is deeply committed to understanding the complex symbiotic relationship between corals and their dinoflagellate endosymbionts. Together, these organisms constitute the key players in one of the Earth’s most biodiverse ecosystems. Through cutting-edge functional genomics and genetic approaches, Dr. Aranda and his team delve into questions surrounding how this relationship works, how they originated and why they are so successful in the nutrient-poor environments of tropical oceans. They employ -omics approaches combined with experimental validation to uncover the molecular mechanisms and evolutionary history of these symbiotic associations, shedding light on the delicate balance that allows corals to flourish in nutrient-poor waters.

Aranda's work is particularly timely, given the threats posed by climate change to these fragile ecosystems. His research goes beyond just understanding the evolutionary intricacies and also delves into epigenetic mechanisms such as, DNA methylation and histone modifications, providing vital clues for coral reef restoration and resilience.

Zoom link:

Meeting URL:https://oist.zoom.us/j/99714248481?pwd=MDdra2U0ajhyQ2hIV1MzR3F6WldEdz09
Meeting ID:   997 1424 8481
Passcode:   629828

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