The Coral Reef Ecology & Microbiology Program studies microorganisms and their role in the marine environment. 

The Coral Reef Ecology & Microbiology assesses baseline microbial communities associated with healthy and threatened marine organisms and systems to understand the role that microbes play in health and disease, as well as the beneficial factors they provide for overall resilience. Using field assessment and microbiological and molecular techniques, this program examines microbes for pathogenesis, antibiotic production, UV resistance and the production of beneficial compounds.

This program has a particular focus on corals and coral reef systems and has shown that bacterial associates of corals protect the host by producing antibiotics and other beneficial compounds/nutrients; that microbial associates communicate with the host and other microbes to order events on the coral surface and that there is likely to be a very complex symbiosis between the coral, zooxanthellae (Symbiodinium spp.) and associated bacteria. 

The Coral Reef Ecology & Microbiology Program has shown that corals harbor beneficial microbes that shift to pathogen dominance when temperatures increase (Ritchie, 2006) and in collaboration with researchers at Cornell University, has developed a computational model that simulates bacterial community dynamics within the coral mucus under tens of thousands of environmental conditions (Mao-Jones et al, 2010).

Research within this program describes bacterial symbionts of the coral endosymbiont, Symbiodinium species, and has found numerous members of the Roseobacteriales group that are specifically present in association with Symbiodinium in culture. These bacteria increase growth rates of Symbiodinium spp., produce quorum sensing (bacterial communication) compounds and increase coral larvae settlement rates. 

One member of this bacterial group has been shown to produce gene transfer agents (GTAs) that may facilitate rapid adaptation to environmental change. Mote and its partners from the University of South Florida's College of Marine Science have shown that this type of genome transfer occurs 100 million times more frequently on coral reefs than in other parts of the ocean (McDaniel et. al., 2010) and facilitates biological processes including enhanced larvae survival and settlement. In collaboration with researchers at King Abdula University of Science and Technology (KAUST), the complete genome has been sequenced for one of these beneficial bacteria. 

Mote has additionally sequenced the transcriptomes and metatranscriptomes of coral larvae and bacterial biofilms (used as settlement substrate) in order to determine the effect of GTAs on coral and bacterial gene expression and bacterial community composition. Data from this effort is currently being analyzed. 

Other Mote Research Programs View All