A novel in vivo system to study coral biomineralization in the starlet sea anemone, Nematostella vectensis

iScience. 2024 Feb 6;27(3):109131. doi: 10.1016/j.isci.2024.109131. eCollection 2024 Mar 15.


Coral conservation requires a mechanistic understanding of how environmental stresses disrupt biomineralization, but progress has been slow, primarily because corals are not easily amenable to laboratory research. Here, we highlight how the starlet sea anemone, Nematostella vectensis, can serve as a model to interrogate the cellular mechanisms of coral biomineralization. We have developed transgenic constructs using biomineralizing genes that can be injected into Nematostella zygotes and designed such that translated proteins may be purified for physicochemical characterization. Using fluorescent tags, we confirm the ectopic expression of the coral biomineralizing protein, SpCARP1, in Nematostella. We demonstrate via calcein staining that SpCARP1 concentrates calcium ions in Nematostella, likely initiating the formation of mineral precursors, consistent with its suspected role in corals. These results lay a fundamental groundwork for establishing Nematostella as an in vivo system to explore the evolutionary and cellular mechanisms of coral biomineralization, improve coral conservation efforts, and even develop novel biomaterials.

Keywords: Animal biotechnology; Aquatic biology; Molecular biology.