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Mutualistic symbioses between scleractinian corals and endosymbiotic dinoflagellates (Symbiodinium spp.) are the foundation of coral reef ecosystems. For many coral-algal symbioses, prolonged episodes of thermal stress damage the symbiont's photosynthetic capability, resulting in its expulsion from the host. Despite the link between photosynthetic competency and symbiont expulsion, little is known about the effect of thermal stress on the expression of photosystem genes in Symbiodinium. This study used real-time PCR to monitor the transcript abundance of two important photosynthetic reaction center genes, psbA(encoding the D1 protein of photosystem II) and psaA (encoding the P700 protein of photosystem I), in four cultured isolates (representing ITS2-types A13, A20, B1, and F2) and two in hospite Symbiodinium spp. within the coral Pocillopora spp. (ITS2-types C1b-c and D1). Both cultured and in hospite Symbiodinium samples were exposed to elevated temperatures (32°C) over a 7-day period and examined for changes in photochemistry and transcript abundance. Symbiodinium A13 and C1b-c (both thermally sensitive) demonstrated significant declines in both psbA and psaA during the thermal stress treatment, whereas the transcript levels of the other Symbiodinium types remained stable. The downregulation of both core photosystem genes could be the result of several different physiological mechanisms, but may ultimately limit repair rates of photosynthetic proteins, rendering some Symbiodinium spp. especially susceptible to thermal stress.


This article was originally published in PLoS ONE 7(12): e50439. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0050439.

© 2012 McGinley et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.