Discovery of Symbiotic Nitrogen-Fixing Cyanobacteria in Corals

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Science  13 Aug 2004:
Vol. 305, Issue 5686, pp. 997-1000
DOI: 10.1126/science.1099128

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Colonies of the Caribbean coral Montastraea cavernosa exhibit a solar-stimulated orange-red fluorescence that is spectrally similar to a variety of fluorescent proteins expressed by corals. The source of this fluorescence is phycoerythrin in unicellular, nonheterocystis, symbiotic cyanobacteria within the host cells of the coral. The cyanobacteria coexist with the symbiotic dinoflagellates (zooxanthellae) of the coral and express the nitrogen-fixing enzyme nitrogenase. The presence of this prokaryotic symbiont in a nitrogen-limited zooxanthellate coral suggests that nitrogen fixation may be an important source of this limiting element for the symbiotic association.

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