Microbial diseases of corals and global warming

Authors

  • Eugene Rosenberg,

    1. Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology, Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv, Israel 69978.
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      *For correspondence. E-mail eros@post.tau.ac.il; Tel. (+972) 3 640 9838; Fax (+972) 3 642 9377.
  • Yael Ben-Haim

    1. Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology, Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv, Israel 69978.
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*For correspondence. E-mail eros@post.tau.ac.il; Tel. (+972) 3 640 9838; Fax (+972) 3 642 9377.

Summary

Coral bleaching and other diseases of corals have increased dramatically during the last few decades. As outbreaks of these diseases are highly correlated with increased sea-water temperature, one of the consequences of global warming will probably be mass destruction of coral reefs. The causative agent(s) of a few of these diseases have been reported: bleaching of Oculina patagonica by Vibrio shiloi; black band disease by a microbial consortium; sea-fan disease (aspergillosis) by Aspergillus sydowii; and coral white plague possibly by Sphingomonas sp. In addition, we have recently discovered that Vibrio coralyticus is the aetiological agent for bleaching the coral Pocillopora damicornis in the Red Sea. In the case of coral bleaching by V. shiloi, the major effect of increasing temperature is the expression of virulence genes by the pathogen. At high summer sea-water temperatures, V. shiloi produces an adhesin that allows it to adhere to a β-galactoside-containing receptor in the coral mucus, penetrate into the coral epidermis, multiply intracellularly, differentiate into a viable-but-not-culturable (VBNC) state and produce toxins that inhibit photosynthesis and lyse the symbiotic zooxanthellae. In black band disease, sulphide is produced at the coral–microbial biofilm interface, which is probably responsible for tissue death. Reports of newly emerging coral diseases and the lack of epidemiological and biochemical information on the known diseases indicate that this will become a fertile area of research in the interface between microbial ecology and infectious disease.

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