Harnessing the Power of Model Organisms to Unravel Microbial Functions in the Coral Holobiont

Giulia Puntin, Michael Sweet, Sebastian Fraune, Mónica Medina, Koty Sharp, Virginia M. Weis, Maren Ziegler

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Stony corals build the framework of coral reefs, ecosystems of immense ecological and economic importance. The existence of these ecosystems is threatened by climate change and other anthropogenic stressors that manifest in microbial dysbiosis such as coral bleaching and disease, often leading to coral mortality. Despite a significant amount of research, the mechanisms ultimately underlying these destructive phenomena, and what could prevent or mitigate them, remain to be resolved. This is mostly due to practical challenges in experimentation on corals and the highly complex nature of the coral holobiont that also includes bacteria, archaea, protists, and viruses. While the overall importance of these partners is well recognized, their specific contributions to holobiont functioning and their interspecific dynamics remain largely unexplored. Here, we review the potential of adopting model organisms as more tractable systems to address these knowledge gaps. We draw on parallels from the broader biological and biomedical fields to guide the establishment, implementation, and integration of new and emerging model organisms with the aim of addressing the specific needs of coral research. We evaluate the cnidarian models Hydra, Aiptasia, Cassiopea, and Astrangia poculata; review the fast-evolving field of coral tissue and cell cultures; and propose a framework for the establishment of “true” tropical reef-building coral models. Based on this assessment, we also suggest future research to address key aspects limiting our ability to understand and hence improve the response of reef-building corals to future ocean conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalMicrobiology and Molecular Biology Reviews
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Medicine


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