Gene discovery in the threatened elkhorn coral: 454 sequencing of the acropora palmata transcriptome

Nicholas R. Polato, J. Cristobal Vera, Iliana B. Baums

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45 Scopus citations


Background: Cnidarians, including corals and anemones, offer unique insights into metazoan evolution because they harbor genetic similarities with vertebrates beyond that found in model invertebrates and retain genes known only from non-metazoans. Cataloging genes expressed in Acropora palmata, a foundation-species of reefs in the Caribbean and western Atlantic, will advance our understanding of the genetic basis of ecologically important traits in corals and comes at a time when sequencing efforts in other cnidarians allow for multi-species comparisons. Results: A cDNA library from a sample enriched for symbiont free larval tissue was sequenced on the 454 GS-FLX platform. Over 960,000 reads were obtained and assembled into 42,630 contigs. Annotation data was acquired for 57% of the assembled sequences. Analysis of the assembled sequences indicated that 83-100% of all A. palmata transcripts were tagged, and provided a rough estimate of the total number genes expressed in our samples (~18,000-20,000). The coral annotation data contained many of the same molecular components as in the Bilateria, particularly in pathways associated with oxidative stress and DNA damage repair, and provided evidence that homologs of p53, a key player in DNA repair pathways, has experienced selection along the branch separating Cnidaria and Bilateria. Transcriptome wide screens of paralog groups and transition/transversion ratios highlighted genes including: green fluorescent proteins, carbonic anhydrase, and oxidative stress proteins; and functional groups involved in protein and nucleic acid metabolism, and the formation of structural molecules. These results provide a starting point for study of adaptive evolution in corals. Conclusions: Currently available transcriptome data now make comparative studies of the mechanisms underlying coral's evolutionary success possible. Here we identified candidate genes that enable corals to maintain genomic integrity despite considerable exposure to genotoxic stress over long life spans, and showed conservation of important physiological pathways between corals and bilaterians.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere28634
JournalPloS one
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 28 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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