Gene expression profiles during short-term heat stress in the red sea coral Stylophora pistillata



During the past several decades, corals worldwide have been affected by severe bleaching events leading to wide-spread coral mortality triggered by global warming. The symbiotic Red Sea coral Stylophora pistillata from the Gulf of Eilat is considered an opportunistic ‘r’ strategist. It can thrive in relatively unstable environments and is considered a stress-tolerant species. Here, we used a S. pistillata custom microarray to examine gene expression patterns and cellular pathways during short-term (13-day) heat stress. The results allowed us to identify a two-step reaction to heat stress, which intensified significantly as the temperature was raised to a 32 °C threshold, beyond which, coping strategies failed at 34 °C. We identified potential ‘early warning genes’ and ‘severe heat-related genes’. Our findings suggest that during short-term heat stress, S. pistillata may divert cellular energy into mechanisms such as the ER-unfolded protein response (UPR) and ER-associated degradation (ERAD) at the expense of growth and biomineralization processes in an effort to survive and subsequently recover from the stress. We suggest a mechanistic theory for the heat stress responses that may explain the success of some species which can thrive under a wider range of temperatures relative to others.