The calcifying interface in a stony coral primary polyp: An interplay between seawater and an extracellular calcifying space

J Struct Biol. 2021 Dec;213(4):107803. doi: 10.1016/j.jsb.2021.107803. Epub 2021 Oct 22.


Stony coral exoskeletons build the foundation for the most biologically diverse marine ecosystems on Earth, coral reefs, which face major threats due to many anthropogenic-related stressors. Therefore, understanding coral biomineralization mechanisms is crucial for coral reef management in the coming decades and for using coral skeletons in geochemical studies. This study combines in-vivo imaging with cryo-electron microscopy and cryo-elemental mapping to gain novel insights into the biological microenvironment and the ion pathways that facilitate biomineralization in primary polyps of the stony coral Stylophora pistillata. We document increased tissue permeability in the primary polyp and a highly dispersed cell packing in the tissue directly responsible for producing the coral skeleton. This tissue arrangement may facilitate the intimate involvement of seawater at the mineralization site, also documented here. We further observe an extensive filopodial network containing carbon-rich vesicles extruding from some of the calicoblastic cells. Single-cell RNA-Sequencing data interrogation supports these morphological observations by showing higher expression of genes involved in filopodia and vesicle structure and function in the calicoblastic cells. These observations provide a new conceptual framework for resolving the ion pathway from the external seawater to the tissue-mineral interface in stony coral biomineralization processes.

Keywords: Biomineralization; coral-reef; cryo-EDS; cryo-SEM; in-vivo; scRNA-seq; tissue premeability.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthozoa / genetics
  • Anthozoa / metabolism*
  • Anthozoa / ultrastructure
  • Calcification, Physiologic*
  • Calcium Carbonate / chemistry
  • Calcium Carbonate / metabolism
  • Coral Reefs*
  • Cryoelectron Microscopy / methods
  • Ecosystem*
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Larva / genetics
  • Larva / metabolism
  • Larva / ultrastructure
  • Microscopy, Confocal / methods
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning / methods
  • RNA-Seq / methods
  • Seawater / chemistry*
  • Single-Cell Analysis / methods
  • Spectrometry, X-Ray Emission / methods
  • Time-Lapse Imaging / methods


  • Calcium Carbonate