Phenotypic plasticity for improved light harvesting, in tandem with methylome repatterning in reef-building corals

Kelly Gomez-Campo, Robersy Sanchez, Isabel Martinez-Rugerio, Xiaodong Yang, Tom Maher, C. Cornelia Osborne, Susana Enriquez, Iliana B. Baums, Sally A. Mackenzie, Roberto Iglesias-Prieto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Acclimatization through phenotypic plasticity represents a more rapid response to environmental change than adaptation and is vital to optimize organisms' performance in different conditions. Generally, animals are less phenotypically plastic than plants, but reef-building corals exhibit plant-like properties. They are light dependent with a sessile and modular construction that facilitates rapid morphological changes within their lifetime. We induced phenotypic changes by altering light exposure in a reciprocal transplant experiment and found that coral plasticity is a colony trait emerging from comprehensive morphological and physiological changes within the colony. Plasticity in skeletal features optimized coral light harvesting and utilization and paralleled significant methylome and transcriptome modifications. Network-associated responses resulted in the identification of hub genes and clusters associated to the change in phenotype: inter-partner recognition and phagocytosis, soft tissue growth and biomineralization. Furthermore, we identified hub genes putatively involved in animal photoreception–phototransduction. These findings fundamentally advance our understanding of how reef-building corals repattern the methylome and adjust a phenotype, revealing an important role of light sensing by the coral animal to optimize photosynthetic performance of the symbionts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere17246
JournalMolecular ecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics

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