Research Highlights

Red Sea corals home to diverse bacteria

Published online 11 October 2012

Habib Maroon

Coral reefs provide ecological niches for large and diverse populations of bacteria, many of which are thought to symbiotically supply their hosts with nutrients. Around 200 different species of coral have been found in the 2,000 kilometres of reef surrounding the coastline of the Red Sea.

A new study, led by Pei-Yuan Qian of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, has surveyed, for the first time, the diversity of microbial populations associated with Red Sea corals.

The researchers, including Abdulaziz Al-Swailem of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Thuwal, Saudi Arabia, employed a DNA barcoding technique in which large-scale sequencing of a universally conserved gene from the bacterial population is used to identify constituent species and phyla. They documented 21 different bacterial phyla within these communities, including the first discovery of bacteria from the phyla Chloroflexi, Chlamydiae, and WS3 living in conjunction with corals.

Some coral species were estimated to be inhabited by as many as 1000 different bacterial species. Corals in pristine waters had a wider variety of bacterial community structures than those in more turbulent areas.

Future sampling of corals from a greater diversity of sites may lead to greater understanding of the human impact on coral reef ecology. "We would like to investigate the microbes associated with stressed and healthy corals, and other reef species, in order to better understand the impact of environmental stressors on the microbe-coral association" says Qian.


  1. Lee, O.O. et al. Spatial and Species Variations in Bacterial Communities Associated with Corals from the Red Sea as Revealed by Pyrosequencing. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. doi: 10.1128/AEM.01111-12.