The world’s well-known coral reefs are suffering tremendously from disease. Previous studies have shown that corals can have an innate immune system, but little is known about how this potentially life-saving system works.

Fortunately, Northeastern’s very own, Silvia Libro and Stefan Kaluziak, graduate students guided by Associate Professor Steven Vollmer, were interested in understanding the genetic pathway underlying the immune response of a staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) to White Band Disease (WBD). Their research was recently published in PLOS One.

Libro found that the coral “mounts a vigorous immune response against WBD” by up-regulating certain genes that are responsible for phagocytosis and apoptosis, two well-known methods of cell regulation. By comparing the coral and non-coral genetic material, the research team was able to confirm that this immune response was being regulated by the coral host itself and not its algal symbionts.