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Millennia-old coral holobiont DNA provides insight into future adaptive trajectories

August 9, 2022

Ancient DNA (aDNA) has been applied to evolutionary questions across a wide variety of taxa. Here, for the first time, we leverage aDNA from millennia-old fossil coral fragments to gain new insights into a rapidly declining western Atlantic reef ecosystem. We sampled four Acropora palmata fragments (dated 4215 BCE - 1099 CE) obtained from two Florida Keys reef cores. From these samples, we established that it is possible both to sequence ancient DNA from reef cores and place the data in the context of modern-day genetic variation. We recovered varying amounts of nuclear DNA exhibiting the characteristic signatures of aDNA from the A. palmata fragments. To describe the holobiont sensu lato, which plays a crucial role in reef health, we utilized metagenome-assembled genomes as a reference to identify a large additional proportion of ancient microbial DNA from the samples. The samples shared many common microbes with modern-day coral holobionts from the same region, suggesting remarkable holobiont stability over time. Despite efforts, we were unable to recover ancient Symbiodiniaceae reads from the samples. Comparing the ancient A. palmata data to whole-genome sequencing data from living acroporids, we found that while slightly distinct, ancient samples were most closely related to individuals of their own species. Together, these results provide a proof-of-principle showing that it is possible to carry out direct analysis of coral holobiont change over time, which lays a foundation for studying the impacts of environmental stress and evolutionary constraints.

Publication Year 2022
Title Millennia-old coral holobiont DNA provides insight into future adaptive trajectories
DOI 10.1111/mec.16642
Authors Carly B. Scott, Anny Cárdenas, Matthew Mah, Vagheesh Narasimhan, Nadin Rohland, Lauren Toth, Christian Voostra, David Reich, Mikhail V Matz
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Molecular Ecology
Index ID 70237185
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center