Reef-building corals are generally restricted to depths due to their symbiotic relations with the photosynthetic dinoflagellate algae (called zooxanthellae), which provide much of the energy needed by the coral host. This symbiosis is typified by tightly coupled mutualistic interactions, and the unique circumstances of one type of organism living within the other (endosymbiosis). The net result is a highly co-evolved and efficient system that has the potential to thrive in places where comparatively less coupled associations do not.
The scientific objectives of our research are to reveal the fundamental molecular and physiological circadian clock apparatus in symbiotic corals and their interaction with light and temperature variations, two key clock-synchronization signals. The aims are

I. To investigate the circadian clock mechanism of the coral host in relation to the environmental cues of light and temperature.
II. To explore the endosymbiotic symbiodinium circadian machinery in relation to light and temperature cues.
III. To study whether skeleton calcification, skeletongenesis, is regulated by the coral circadian rhythm.

The LMME research will focus on the circadian clock of one symbiotic coral, and its associated zooxanthellae. This system will be investigated in terms of its three components: the coral (animal), the symbiotic algae, and the skeleton. The study of symbiotic scleractinian corals as a model organism can serve as an excellent system for understanding the molecular, genetic, and developmental complexity of the metazoan circadian clock; corals are likely to be critically important from an evolutionary point of view as this phylum is regarded as the sister group to the Bilateria, and is known to be the simplest eumetazoan marine organism.

To achieve our objective, a combination of techniques from different areas will be integrated to study the coral circadian clock biology process, molecular and cellular biology, physiology, and high-precision stable isotope mass-spectrometry, and will leverage our vast experience with coral growth and maintenance in both natural and controlled laboratory environments. This is a unique and novel mix of scientific methods applied to a problem of fundamental importance in coral reef chronobiology, ecology, and physiology.

The “System”

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