Bachelor of Science, Johns Hopkins University (2003)
Master of Science, Johns Hopkins University (2004)
Doctor of Philosophy, Boston University (2011)
Stephen Palumbi, Postdoctoral Faculty Sponsor
Mechanisms of reef coral resistance to future climate change
2014; 344 (6186): 895-898
Reef corals are highly sensitive to heat, yet populations resistant to climate change have recently been identified. To determine the mechanisms of temperature tolerance, we reciprocally transplanted corals between reef sites experiencing distinct temperature regimes and tested subsequent physiological and gene expression profiles. Local acclimatization and fixed effects, such as adaptation, contributed about equally to heat tolerance and are reflected in patterns of gene expression. In less than 2 years, acclimatization achieves the same heat tolerance that we would expect from strong natural selection over many generations for these long-lived organisms. Our results show both short-term acclimatory and longer-term adaptive acquisition of climate resistance. Adding these adaptive abilities to ecosystem models is likely to slow predictions of demise for coral reef ecosystems.
View details for DOI 10.1126/science.1251336
View details for Web of Science ID 000336233800046
Translational environmental biology: cell biology informing conservation.
Trends in cell biology
2014; 24 (5): 265-267
Typically, findings from cell biology have been beneficial for preventing human disease. However, translational applications from cell biology can also be applied to conservation efforts, such as protecting coral reefs. Recent efforts to understand the cell biological mechanisms maintaining coral health such as innate immunity and acclimatization have prompted new developments in conservation. Similar to biomedicine, we urge that future efforts should focus on better frameworks for biomarker development to protect coral reefs.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.tcb.2014.03.001
View details for PubMedID 24766840
Initiating a regenerative response; cellular and molecular features of wound healing in the cnidarian Nematostella vectensis
Wound healing is the first stage of a series of cellular events that are necessary to initiate a regenerative response. Defective wound healing can block regeneration even in animals with a high regenerative capacity. Understanding how signals generated during wound healing promote regeneration of lost structures is highly important, considering that virtually all animals have the ability to heal but many lack the ability to regenerate missing structures. Cnidarians are the phylogenetic sister taxa to bilaterians and are highly regenerative animals. To gain a greater understanding of how early animals generate a regenerative response, we examined the cellular and molecular components involved during wound healing in the anthozoan cnidarian Nematostella vectensis.Pharmacological inhibition of extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERK) signaling blocks regeneration and wound healing in Nematostella. We characterized early and late wound healing events through genome-wide microarray analysis, quantitative PCR, and in situ hybridization to identify potential wound healing targets. We identified a number of genes directly related to the wound healing response in other animals (metalloproteinases, growth factors, transcription factors) and suggest that glycoproteins (mucins and uromodulin) play a key role in early wound healing events. This study also identified a novel cnidarian-specific gene, for a thiamine biosynthesis enzyme (vitamin B synthesis), that may have been incorporated into the genome by lateral gene transfer from bacteria and now functions during wound healing. Lastly, we suggest that ERK signaling is a shared element of the early wound response for animals with a high regenerative capacity.This research describes the temporal events involved during Nematostella wound healing, and provides a foundation for comparative analysis with other regenerative and non-regenerative species. We have shown that the same genes that heal puncture wounds are also activated after oral-aboral bisection, indicating a clear link with the initiation of regenerative healing. This study demonstrates the strength of using a forward approach (microarray) to characterize a developmental phenomenon (wound healing) at a phylogenetically important crossroad of animal evolution (cnidarian-bilaterian ancestor). Accumulation of data on the early wound healing events across numerous systems may provide clues as to why some animals have limited regenerative abilities.
View details for DOI 10.1186/1741-7007-12-24
View details for Web of Science ID 000342369500001
View details for PubMedID 24670243
Genomic basis for coral resilience to climate change
PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
2013; 110 (4): 1387-1392
Recent advances in DNA-sequencing technologies now allow for in-depth characterization of the genomic stress responses of many organisms beyond model taxa. They are especially appropriate for organisms such as reef-building corals, for which dramatic declines in abundance are expected to worsen as anthropogenic climate change intensifies. Different corals differ substantially in physiological resilience to environmental stress, but the molecular mechanisms behind enhanced coral resilience remain unclear. Here, we compare transcriptome-wide gene expression (via RNA-Seq using Illumina sequencing) among conspecific thermally sensitive and thermally resilient corals to identify the molecular pathways contributing to coral resilience. Under simulated bleaching stress, sensitive and resilient corals change expression of hundreds of genes, but the resilient corals had higher expression under control conditions across 60 of these genes. These "frontloaded" transcripts were less up-regulated in resilient corals during heat stress and included thermal tolerance genes such as heat shock proteins and antioxidant enzymes, as well as a broad array of genes involved in apoptosis regulation, tumor suppression, innate immune response, and cell adhesion. We propose that constitutive frontloading enables an individual to maintain physiological resilience during frequently encountered environmental stress, an idea that has strong parallels in model systems such as yeast. Our study provides broad insight into the fundamental cellular processes responsible for enhanced stress tolerances that may enable some organisms to better persist into the future in an era of global climate change.
View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.1210224110
View details for Web of Science ID 000314453900053
Towards an integrated network of coral immune mechanisms
PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY B-BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES
2012; 279 (1745): 4106-4114
Reef-building corals form bio-diverse marine ecosystems of high societal and economic value, but are in significant decline globally due, in part, to rapid climatic changes. As immunity is a predictor of coral disease and thermal stress susceptibility, a comprehensive understanding of this new field will likely provide a mechanistic explanation for ecological-scale trends in reef declines. Recently, several strides within coral immunology document defence mechanisms that are consistent with those of both invertebrates and vertebrates, and which span the recognition, signalling and effector response phases of innate immunity. However, many of these studies remain discrete and unincorporated into the wider fields of invertebrate immunology or coral biology. To encourage the rapid development of coral immunology, we comprehensively synthesize the current understanding of the field in the context of general invertebrate immunology, and highlight fundamental gaps in our knowledge. We propose a framework for future research that we hope will stimulate directional studies in this emerging field and lead to the elucidation of an integrated network of coral immune mechanisms. Once established, we are optimistic that coral immunology can be effectively applied to pertinent ecological questions, improve current prediction tools and aid conservation efforts.
View details for DOI 10.1098/rspb.2012.1477
View details for Web of Science ID 000308748000002
View details for PubMedID 22896649
Production of a reference transcriptome and transcriptomic database (PocilloporaBase) for the cauliflower coral, Pocillopora damicornis
Motivated by the precarious state of the world's coral reefs, there is currently a keen interest in coral transcriptomics. By identifying changes in coral gene expression that are triggered by particular environmental stressors, we can begin to characterize coral stress responses at the molecular level, which should lead to the development of more powerful diagnostic tools for evaluating the health of corals in the field. Furthermore, the identification of genetic variants that are more or less resilient in the face of particular stressors will help us to develop more reliable prognoses for particular coral populations. Toward this end, we performed deep mRNA sequencing of the cauliflower coral, Pocillopora damicornis, a geographically widespread Indo-Pacific species that exhibits a great diversity of colony forms and is able to thrive in habitats subject to a wide range of human impacts. Importantly, P. damicornis is particularly amenable to laboratory culture. We collected specimens from three geographically isolated Hawaiian populations subjected to qualitatively different levels of human impact. We isolated RNA from colony fragments ("nubbins") exposed to four environmental stressors (heat, desiccation, peroxide, and hypo-saline conditions) or control conditions. The RNA was pooled and sequenced using the 454 platform.Both the raw reads (n=1, 116, 551) and the assembled contigs (n=70, 786; mean length=836 nucleotides) were deposited in a new publicly available relational database called PocilloporaBase http://www.PocilloporaBase.org. Using BLASTX, 47.2% of the contigs were found to match a sequence in the NCBI database at an E-value threshold of ?.001; 93.6% of those contigs with matches in the NCBI database appear to be of metazoan origin and 2.3% bacterial origin, while most of the remaining 4.1% match to other eukaryotes, including algae and amoebae.P. damicornis now joins the handful of coral species for which extensive transcriptomic data are publicly available. Through PocilloporaBase http://www.PocilloporaBase.org, one can obtain assembled contigs and raw reads and query the data according to a wide assortment of attributes including taxonomic origin, PFAM motif, KEGG pathway, and GO annotation.
View details for DOI 10.1186/1471-2164-12-585
View details for Web of Science ID 000301436200001
View details for PubMedID 22126435