Rapid Assessment of Coral Stress Using Gene Expression

EPA Grant Number: R827105
Title: Rapid Assessment of Coral Stress Using Gene Expression
Investigators: Snell, Terry W.
Institution: Georgia Institute of Technology
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: October 1, 1998 through October 1, 2001
Project Amount: $299,273
RFA: Exploratory Research - Environmental Biology (1998) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Biology/Life Sciences , Health , Ecosystems


Improving the ability of the EPA to monitor the ecological status and trends of aquatic communities is critical for the development of sound environmental policy. In some communities, like coral reefs, there are few tools for monitoring and assessing responses to management efforts. The work proposed here seeks to apply recent advances in molecular biology to monitor stress on coral reefs and identify the most likely stressors. We propose quantifying changes in gene expression as indicators of stress from natural and anthropogenic sources. The general hypotheses that we propose to test are: 1) One of the first responses of corals to environmental stressors is change in their pattern of gene expression; 2) Characterization of stressor-specific patterns of gene expression will allow discrimination of natural from anthropogenic stressors; 3) Screening of the entire genome will allow us to identify specific genes useful as indicators of adverse impact on coral ecosystems and diagnosis of the stressors; and 4) Probes for specific stress-induced genes will be useful for predicting the toxicity of complex mixtures and identifying the major coral stressors.


Our approach is to investigate how gene expression changes when corals are exposed to natural and anthropogenic stressors. We take advantages of recent advances in molecular biology to use differential display PCR to visualize changes in scleractinian coral mRNA abundance. Stressor-specific probes for mRNA will be developed for quantifying the intensity of stress in corals and diagnosing the most likely stressors. Transplantation experiments will be conducted to examine how stressors in natural populations induce gene expression.

Expected Results:

We expect to identify several coral genes that are upregulated upon exposure to stressors. These will be sequenced and compared to genes of known function in Genbank. The pattern of genes induced in natural populations will be investigated to provide insight into the major stressors in the field.

Improvement in Risk Assessment or Risk Management: Functional understanding of the impact of stressors in corals will suggest management actions that could improve the condition of coral reefs worldwide. Methods for quantifying concentration-response relationships and determining threshold adverse effect levels will allow corals to be incorporated into ecological risk assessments.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 5 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 1 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

corals, toxicity, genes, gene expression, stress, Acropora, Florida Keys, PCR., RFA, Scientific Discipline, Geographic Area, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Aquatic Ecosystems & Estuarine Research, Ecosystem/Assessment/Indicators, Ecosystem Protection, Oceanography, Aquatic Ecosystem, Ecological Effects - Environmental Exposure & Risk, Environmental Microbiology, Southeast, Ecological Risk Assessment, anthropogenic stresses, monitoring, risk assessment, anthropogenic stress, ecological exposure, coral reef ecosystem, adverse impacts, coral reefs, stressors, toxicity studies, Florida Keys, genes, natural stressors, RNA, toxicity, aquatic ecosystems, coral reef communities, aquatic ecology, indicators

Relevant Websites:

http://www.biology.gatech.edu/snell.htmlExit EPA icon

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 1999 Progress Report
  • 2000 Progress Report
  • Final