The surfaces of massive corals of the genus Favia from Eilat, Red Sea, and from Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, are covered by a layer of eukaryotic microorganisms. These microorganisms are embedded in the coral mucus and tissue. In the Gulf of Eilat, the prevalence of corals covered by patches of eukaryotic microorganisms was positively correlated with a decrease in water temperatures (from 25-28 °C in the summer to 20-23 °C in winter). Comparisons carried out using transmission and scanning electron microscopy showed morphological similarities between the microorganisms from the two geographically distant reefs. The microorganisms found on and in the tissues were approximately 5-15 μm in diameter, surrounded by scales in their cell wall, contained a nucleus, and included unique auto-florescent coccoid bodies of approximately 1 μm. Such morphological characters suggested that these microorganisms are stramenopile protists and in particular thraustochytrids. Molecular analysis, carried out using specific primers for stramenopile 18S rRNA genes, revealed that 90% (111/123) of the clones in the gene libraries were from the Thraustochytriidae. The dominant genera in this family were Aplanochytrium sp., Thraustochytrium sp., and Labyrinthuloides sp. Ten stramenopile strains were isolated and cultured from the corals. Some strains showed ≥97% similarity to clones derived from libraries of mucus-associated microorganisms retrieved directly from these corals. Fatty acid characterization of one of the prevalent strains revealed a high percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids, including omega-3. The possible association of these stramenopiles in the coral holobiont appeared to be a positive one.
- Coral mucus
- Coral protists