Genome Evolution of Coral Reef Symbionts as Intracellular Residents

Trends Ecol Evol. 2019 Sep;34(9):799-806. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2019.04.010. Epub 2019 May 10.


Coral reefs are sustained by symbioses between corals and symbiodiniacean dinoflagellates. These symbioses vary in the extent of their permanence in and specificity to the host. Although dinoflagellates are primarily free-living, Symbiodiniaceae diversified mainly as symbiotic lineages. Their genomes reveal conserved symbiosis-related gene functions and high sequence divergence. However, the evolutionary mechanisms that underpin the transition from the free-living lifestyle to symbiosis remain poorly understood. Here, we discuss the genome evolution of Symbiodiniaceae in diverse ecological niches across the broad spectrum of symbiotic associations, from free-living to putative obligate symbionts. We pose key questions regarding genome evolution vis-à-vis the transition of dinoflagellates from free-living to symbiotic and propose strategies for future research to better understand coral-dinoflagellate and other eukaryote-eukaryote symbioses.

Keywords: Symbiodiniaceae; Symbiodinium; coral–dinoflagellate symbiosis; genome evolution; intracellular resident; resident genome syndrome.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthozoa*
  • Coral Reefs
  • Dinoflagellida*
  • Genome
  • Symbiosis