Nav: Home

Land-based microbes may be invading and harming coral reefs

March 24, 2017

A new study suggests that coral reefs--already under existential threat from global warming--may be undergoing further damage from invading bacteria and fungi coming from land-based sources, such as outfall from sewage treatment plants and coastal inlets. The study raised the possibility that microbes from these sources are invading reefs off of the southeastern coast of Florida. The research is published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology.

In the study, the researchers, led by Chan Lan Chun, PhD, Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering, Natural Resources Research Institute, University of Minnesota, Duluth, took water samples from coastal inlets, and from oceanic outfall effluent from water treatment plants along Florida's southeastern coast, as well as from water and coral tissues in reefs. Their work showed that certain bacterial species and fungal families are present both in the land-based sources and in water and tissues within the coral reefs. The distance from the sewage outfall pipes to the reefs ranges from 5.5 to 25 miles.

The investigators used techniques called "high throughput next generation DNA sequencing" and to analyze each of the water samples to identify and quantify the bacteria and fungi living therein, said Chun.

They then used software called SourceTracker "to evaluate and quantify the potential contributions from each of the land-based sources to the reef," said Chun.

The fact that a small number of previous studies have failed to find on other reefs the microbes that appear both on nearby land and on reefs in this study suggest that those microbes have invaded these reefs, said coauthor Michael Sadowsky PhD, professor of Soil, Water, and Climate, and director of the Biotechnology Institute, University of Minnesota, St. Paul. "The metagenomic data we have now strongly suggests that anthropogenic input sources are becoming established on reefs."

Experiments would need to be done to prove the hypothesis, said Sadowsky. "We would need to infect part of a pristine reef in a lab mesocosm study and follow the microbial ecology--the growth and survival--of the microorganisms that become established on the reef."

Assuming the hypothetical invaders actually are invaders, these microbes will have almost certainly changed the community structure of the reef microbiome. That could be damaging because the microbiome "plays various roles in nutrient cycling, coral health, and creating a habitat that is conducive to the various animals and plants that live in the reef," Chun explained.

Thus, invaders would likely disrupt the ecology of the animal and plant communities of the reef, and since the coral depends on all of the above for its health and sustenance, it would likely be harmed as well, said Chun. She said that previous studies have shown that runoff from land can harm coral reefs by infecting the coral, and disrupting the ecology of the animals and plants, including preventing growth and reproduction of some species.
-end-
The American Society for Microbiology is the largest single life science society, composed of over 47,000 scientists and health professionals. ASM's mission is to promote and advance the microbial sciences.

ASM advances the microbial sciences through conferences, publications, certifications and educational opportunities. It enhances laboratory capacity around the globe through training and resources. It provides a network for scientists in academia, industry and clinical settings. Additionally, ASM promotes a deeper understanding of the microbial sciences to diverse audiences.

American Society for Microbiology

Related Bacteria Articles:

Conducting shell for bacteria
Under anaerobic conditions, certain bacteria can produce electricity. This behavior can be exploited in microbial fuel cells, with a special focus on wastewater treatment schemes.
Controlling bacteria's necessary evil
Until now, scientists have only had a murky understanding of how these relationships arise.
Bacteria take a deadly risk to survive
Bacteria need mutations -- changes in their DNA code -- to survive under difficult circumstances.
How bacteria hunt other bacteria
A bacterial species that hunts other bacteria has attracted interest as a potential antibiotic, but exactly how this predator tracks down its prey has not been clear.
Chlamydia: How bacteria take over control
To survive in human cells, chlamydiae have a lot of tricks in store.
Stress may protect -- at least in bacteria
Antibiotics harm bacteria and stress them. Trimethoprim, an antibiotic, inhibits the growth of the bacterium Escherichia coli and induces a stress response.
'Pulling' bacteria out of blood
Magnets instead of antibiotics could provide a possible new treatment method for blood infection.
New findings detail how beneficial bacteria in the nose suppress pathogenic bacteria
Staphylococcus aureus is a common colonizer of the human body.
Understanding your bacteria
New insight into bacterial cell division could lead to advancements in the fight against harmful bacteria.
Bacteria are individualists
Cells respond differently to lack of nutrients.

Related Bacteria Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...