Assessment of the microbial communities associated with white syndrome and brown jelly syndrome in aquarium corals
Bacterial and ciliate assemblages associated with aquarium corals displaying white syndrome (WS) and brown jelly syndrome (BJS) were investigated. Healthy (n = 10) and diseased corals (WS n = 18; BJS n = 3) were analysed for 16S rRNA gene bacterial diversity, total bacterial abundance and vibrio-specific 16S rRNA gene abundance. This was conducted alongside analysis of 18S rRNA gene sequencing targeting ciliates, a group of organisms largely overlooked for their potential as causal agents of coral disease. Despite significant differences between healthy and diseased corals in their 16S rRNA gene bacterial diversity, total bacterial abundance and vibrio-specific rRNA gene abundance, no dominant bacterial ribotypes were found consistently within the diseased samples. In contrast, one ciliate morphotype, named Morph 3 in this study (GenBank Accession Numbers JF831358 for the ciliate isolated from WS and JF831359 for the ciliate isolated from BJS) was observed to burrow into and underneath the coral tissues at the disease lesion in both disease types and contained algal endosymbionts indicative of coral tissue ingestion. This ciliate was observed in larger numbers in BJS compared to WS, giving rise to the characteristic jelly like substance in BJS. Morph 3 varied by only 1 bp over 549 bp from the recently described Morph 1 ciliate (GenBank Accession No. JN626268), which has been shown to be present in field samples of WS and Brown Band Disease (BrB) in the Indo-Pacific. This result indicates a close relationship between these aquarium diseases and those observed in the wild.
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