July 30, 2014, 12:58 am

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Sampling Lophelia in the Gulf of Mexico for microbiological studies © USGS/Christina Kellogg

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Lophelia

Lophelia microbiology, a global picture

Lophelia is a globally distributed coral but so far microbiological studies have been limited to a few places in the Atlantic: Norwegian fjords, the Mediterranean Sea, Rockall Bank (northwest of the United Kingdom) and the Gulf of Mexico.  These studies have shown that there is variability in the Lophelia-associated bacterial communities; variation exists between coral’s colour morphs (red/orange versus white), and both within and between sampling locations.  This diversity may be due to diet or other environmental factors.

However, underlying the spatial variability observed, there are Lophelia-specific bacterial symbionts.  Identical sequences for two bacterial types have been found associated with corals sampled in both the Gulf of Mexico and a Norwegian fjord.  We don’t know what these bacterial groups do for the coral (or vice versa), but there must be a significant reason for them to be conserved across the Atlantic ocean basin.  Loss of these symbionts may be a sign of stress.

Bacterial groups associated with Lophelia include some types commonly found on shallow-water corals.  There are also psychrophiles, “cold-loving” bacteria that are usually found in polar waters.

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