Modification of fatty acid profile and biosynthetic pathway in symbiotic corals under eutrophication

Sci Total Environ. 2021 Jun 1;771:145336. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.145336. Epub 2021 Jan 22.


Symbiotic corals receive energy not only by ingesting food (e.g. plankton, inorganic/organic matter, i.e. heterotrophy), but also by endosymbiosis, which supplies photosynthates (dissolved inorganic carbon, i.e. autotrophy). These two sources of energy have distinct fatty acid (FA) profiles, which can be used to differentiate corals by their primary feeding mode. FA profiles have been applied as biomarkers to evaluate the quality of nutrition in the midst of environmental change. However, species-specific responses of coral FA profiles and biosynthetic pathway under cultural eutrophication are still unknown. We collected two coral species (Acropora samoensis, Platygyra carnosa) from sites with different levels of eutrophication to test for variations in FA profiles. Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) was performed to identify FA profiles and quantify their concentration. Our main findings are threefold: 1) chronic eutrophication inhibits corals' ability to synthesize essential FA; 2) PUFA:SFA ratio and certain FA biomarkers or their pathway can be successfully utilized to determine the relative degree of autotrophy and heterotrophy in corals; 3) under eutrophication, different FA profiles of coral host tissue are attributed to different feeding strategies. Thus, our research provides significant new insights into the roles of FA as a risk assessment tool in coral reef ecosystems under the pressure of eutrophication.

Keywords: Biosynthetic pathway; Coral; Eutrophication; Fatty acid; Water quality.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthozoa*
  • Biosynthetic Pathways
  • Coral Reefs
  • Ecosystem
  • Eutrophication
  • Fatty Acids
  • Symbiosis


  • Fatty Acids