Metabolomics of reef benthic interactions reveals a bioactive lipid involved in coral defence

Proc Biol Sci. 2016 Apr 27;283(1829):20160469. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0469.


Holobionts are assemblages of microbial symbionts and their macrobial host. As extant representatives of some of the oldest macro-organisms, corals and algae are important for understanding how holobionts develop and interact with one another. Using untargeted metabolomics, we show that non-self interactions altered the coral metabolome more than self-interactions (i.e. different or same genus, respectively). Platelet activating factor (PAF) and Lyso-PAF, central inflammatory modulators in mammals, were major lipid components of the coral holobionts. When corals were damaged during competitive interactions with algae, PAF increased along with expression of the gene encoding Lyso-PAF acetyltransferase; the protein responsible for converting Lyso-PAF to PAF. This shows that self and non-self recognition among some of the oldest extant holobionts involve bioactive lipids identical to those in highly derived taxa like humans. This further strengthens the hypothesis that major players of the immune response evolved during the pre-Cambrian.

Keywords: coral; mass spectrometry; metabolomics; platelet activating factor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthozoa / genetics
  • Anthozoa / microbiology
  • Anthozoa / physiology*
  • Biological Evolution
  • Coral Reefs*
  • Lipids / physiology*
  • Metabolomics
  • Models, Biological
  • Platelet Activating Factor / analogs & derivatives
  • Platelet Activating Factor / genetics
  • Platelet Activating Factor / physiology
  • Rhodophyta / physiology
  • Symbiosis / physiology
  • Transcriptome


  • Lipids
  • O-deacetyl platelet activating factor
  • Platelet Activating Factor