The young field of coral microbiology is driven primarily by a desire to understand coral diseases, which are causing worldwide damage to coral reefs. The field is particularly attractive to microbiologists who enjoy combining laboratory research with field work. In this case, the field work takes place in the most beautiful surroundings.
Up to now, most of the research in coral microbiology has been concerned with isolating potential pathogens (reviewed by Rosenberg, et al., 2007) and comparing the microbial communities of healthy and diseased corals (e.g. Bourne et al., 2008). These studies have utilized both classical culture techniques and modern molecular methods and provide the necessary background for future coral microbiology.
What lies ahead? Taking inspiration from medical and environmental microbiology, coral microbiologists will in the near future (i) begin to understand the mechanisms of coral disease, (ii) discover the environmental factors which contribute to diseases and their spread (reservoirs and vectors), and (iii) define the positive role of microbes in the health of the coral holobiont. One area of research that has been largely ignored, but may be very important, is coral virology, including bacterial, algal and coral viruses.
In my opinion the most important and achievable goal of coral microbiology is to develop practical technologies for controlling the spread of coral diseases. Application of the techniques that have been developed for land animals and plants will not be sufficient for the treatment of coral diseases in coral reefs. It is going to take a creative breakthrough- and it is difficult to predict when that will occur.