International collaboration to explore cellular mechanics of coral bleaching

May 6, 2021

Coral bleaching is a global ecological crisis caused by the massive loss of the symbiont dinoflagellate symbiodinium from its coral hosts. Ke Hu, a new faculty member in the Biodesign Center for Mechanisms of Evolution, will collaborate with Kazuo Inaba at the Shimoda Marine Research Center/University of Tsukuba (Shizuoka, Japan) to better understand the cellular mechanics of coral bleaching.  This international collaboration will be supported by a $795,000 award from the Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP).

Sustained coral bleaching leads to coral death, destroying an essential foundation of the marine ecosystem. While the importance of Symbiodinium spp in the marine ecosystem has long been known, the cellular mechanics of how the intracellular association with their hosts is established and dissolved is not understood. 

To tackle this problem, The Hu and Inaba Labs will apply their expertise in cell biology, microscopy, parasitology, evolution biology and marine biology. The goal is to use an evolution-guided strategy to test whether two seemingly incongruent processes- the exodus of symbiodinium from cnidarians and the egress of apicomplexan parasites from mammalian cells - share a common evolutionary origin and cellular mechanics. 

The HFSP award will allow the team to explore the nature of the force driving exodus of symbiont from coral and develop molecular genetic tools that are essential for investigating the fundamental biology of the symbiodinium-cnidarian partnership. 

The HFSP program funds collaborative research for a broad range of projects under the umbrella theme complex mechanisms of living organisms. The program funds cutting-edge, risky projects and it is the only program that supports international teams of scientists with laboratories in different countries.