University of Guam researchers develop new way of analyzing coral-associated microalgae

Researchers from the University of Guam have published a study in the journal PLoS ONE detailing a new method for analyzing Symbiodiniaceae, a type of microalgae vital to coral reef health. According to the paper, published in September, this procedure allows scientists to receive data within one day compared to other methods that are either expensive, take months to process, or lack resolution.  

Symbiodiniaceae is a family of marine microalgae known for their symbiotic relationships with reef-building corals, giant clams, jellyfish, and other marine invertebrates. Understanding Symbiodiniaceae is crucial to those working to protect and restore coral reefs that are under threat around the world due to climate change.  

According to the article, many techniques used to analyze Symbiodiniaceae are often low resolution, expensive, and inaccessible to researchers.    

To address this issue, two research associates from the UOG Marine Laboratory developed a protocol that collects information on cell shape, size, and photopigments for thousands of Symbiodiniaceae cells in just a few minutes.  

“We basically showed that you can use flow cytometry to better understand coral-associated algae,” said lead author Colin Anthony, a former Guam NSF EPSCoR graduate research assistant. “Using this method, you remove the algal cells from within the coral tissue, process them with the flow cytometer which hits them with a bunch of lasers, and then you get an idea of the state of the algae and its ability to acclimate or adapt to environmental conditions.”  

Flow cytometry is a technique that uses lasers to detect and measure the physical and chemical characteristics of a population of cells. This technology is typically used in drug testing and cancer research.  

“It’s a pretty widely accepted technique,” said co-author Colin Lock. “Within the coral world, flow cytometry is hugely underutilized. Regarding algae, what we’re finding out is that there are different species with different tolerances, so you can look at the shifts between species within a coral host.”  

Anthony developed this new method while pursuing his graduate degree at UOG.  

“When I started my master’s in 2020, I thought I was going to look at the biodiversity of Symbiodiniaceae,” said Anthony. “I later realized that there were all these other aspects of flow cytometry that people don’t really acknowledge or understand in the coral community.”  

While the technique mentioned in the paper is designed for corals, Anthony said that with slight modification, it can be used for any organism that contains endosymbiotic algae such as upside-down jellyfish as well as any free-living ocean algae.  

Because this method produces such a high output of data in a significantly shorter amount of time compared to other procedures, both Anthony and Lock hope that other scientists within their field start using this technique.  

“It’s a lot of work to come up with a new method because there’s so much troubleshooting involved with its development,” said Lock. “This can be used to examine responses in a lot of different organisms, and we just hope that people adopt it and start integrating it into their work.”  

Skip to content