Symbiodinium isolation by NaOH treatment

J Exp Biol. 2012 Nov 15;215(Pt 22):3875-80. doi: 10.1242/jeb.074955. Epub 2012 Sep 12.


The presence of photosynthetic zooxanthellae (dinoflagellates) in the tissue of many cnidarians is the main reason for their ecological success (i.e. coral reefs). It could also be the main cause of their demise, as the worldwide bleaching of reef-building coral is nothing less than the breakdown of this symbiotic association. The stability of this relationship is the principal marker for the biomonitoring of cnidarian health. We have therefore developed a new, simple method to isolate zooxanthellae in a few steps using NaOH solution. The protocol was validated in three symbiotic cnidarian species: a sea anemone, a gorgonian and a coral. Our method allows the isolation of intact and viable zooxanthellae with better yields than classic methods, especially for species with a calcareous skeleton. Moreover, the isolated zooxanthellae were free of host nucleic contaminants, facilitating subsequent specific molecular analyses.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cnidaria / drug effects
  • Cnidaria / parasitology
  • DNA, Protozoan / isolation & purification
  • Dinoflagellida / cytology
  • Dinoflagellida / drug effects*
  • Dinoflagellida / isolation & purification*
  • Genome, Protozoan / genetics
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • RNA, Protozoan / isolation & purification
  • Sodium Hydroxide / pharmacology*
  • Species Specificity


  • DNA, Protozoan
  • RNA, Protozoan
  • Sodium Hydroxide