Background: Coral reefs are hotspots of oceanic biodiversity, forming the foundation of ecosystems that are important both ecologically and for their direct practical impacts on humans. Corals are declining globally due to a number of stressors, including rising sea-surface temperatures and pollution; such stresses can lead to a breakdown of the essential symbiotic relationship between the coral host and its endosymbiotic dinoflagellates, a process known as coral bleaching. Although the environmental stresses causing this breakdown are largely known, the cellular mechanisms of symbiosis establishment, maintenance, and breakdown are still largely obscure. Investigating the symbiosis using an experimentally tractable model organism, such as the small sea anemone Aiptasia, should improve our understanding of exactly how the environmental stressors affect coral survival and growth.
Results: We assembled the transcriptome of a clonal population of adult, aposymbiotic (dinoflagellate-free) Aiptasia pallida from ~208 million reads, yielding 58,018 contigs. We demonstrated that many of these contigs represent full-length or near-full-length transcripts that encode proteins similar to those from a diverse array of pathways in other organisms, including various metabolic enzymes, cytoskeletal proteins, and neuropeptide precursors. The contigs were annotated by sequence similarity, assigned GO terms, and scanned for conserved protein domains. We analyzed the frequency and types of single-nucleotide variants and estimated the size of the Aiptasia genome to be ~421 Mb. The contigs and annotations are available through NCBI (Transcription Shotgun Assembly database, accession numbers JV077153-JV134524) and at http://pringlelab.stanford.edu/projects.html.
Conclusions: The availability of an extensive transcriptome assembly for A. pallida will facilitate analyses of gene-expression changes, identification of proteins of interest, and other studies in this important emerging model system.