Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor's Name

Charles H. Bigger

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

M. Alejandro Barbieri

Third Advisor's Name

John Makemson

Fourth Advisor's Name

J. Martin Quirke

Fifth Advisor's Name

Sylvia L. Smith


cnidaria, innate immunity, ultrastructure, enzyme histochemistry, antimicrobial peptides

Date of Defense



The immune systems of cnidaria are important to study for two reasons: to gain a better understanding of the evolution of immune responses, and to provide a basis to partially redress the precipitous world-wide die-offs of reef corals, some of which have been attributed to diseases and stress. Many immune responses share ancient evolutionary origins and are common across many taxa.

Using Swiftia exserta, an azooxanthellate ahermatypic local octocoral, as a proxy model organism to study aspects of innate immunity in corals and cnidaria allows us to address both of the reasons listed above while not using endangered species. Utilizing a coral that does not contain symbiotic dinoflagellates (zooxanthellae) simplifies the system by restricting the source of proteins to a single genome. The lack of zooxanthellae in Swiftia exserta also allows the animal’s simple adaptation to lab settings.

This study of the innate immune system of an octocoral demonstrates: 1) a novel understanding of the microanatomy of octocoral tissues; 2) that Swiftia exserta has at least two cell types that function as constitutive immunocytes; and 3) the presence of two potent antibacterial peptides, one with a mass between 4694 and 4696 Daltons. My report on the microanatomy of the coenenchyme, the tissue between polyps, advances the understanding of octocoral anatomy by systematically comparing histology sections with electron micrographs. Applying various techniques of enzyme histochemistry, coupled with cryo-preservation, to the coenenchyme I have identified at least two populations of constitutive immunocytes in Swiftia exserta. Two antibacterial proteins are identified by protein purification and antimicrobial testing techniques. The more active protein is partially characterized with modern hyphenated mass-spectrometry techniques, and can be the focus of future study.



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