Corals take control of nitrogen recycling

03 September, 2019

​Corals are shown to recycle their own waste ammonium using a surprising source of glucose—a finding that reveals more about the relationship between corals and their symbiotic algae.

Symbiosis between corals and algae provides the backbone for building coral reefs, particularly in nutrient-poor waters like the Red Sea. Algae and corals cooperate to share nutrient resources, but the precise metabolic interactions at play are still unclear.

Now, KAUST researchers have shown that the coral host uses organic carbon—in glucose sourced from its symbiotic algae—to recycle its own waste ammonium. Previous research had suggested that the algae alone may be responsible for ammonium (nitrogen) recycling. The KAUST team believes that, by controlling this nitrogen recycling mechanism, the coral host can in turn control algal growth by restricting or enabling nitrogen flow.

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Image: Guixin Cui (left) and Manuel Aranda confer over the anemone that is helping them to understand the metabolism of corals.
© 2019 KAUST