Frontloading of stress response genes enhances robustness to environmental change in chimeric corals

Background Chimeras are genetically mixed entities resulting from the fusion of two or more conspecifics. This phenomenon is widely distributed in nature and documented in a variety of animal and plant phyla. In corals, chimerism initiates at early ontogenic states (larvae to young spat) and results from the fusion between two or more closely settled conspecifics. When compared to genetically homogenous colonies (non-chimeras), the literature has listed ecological and evolutionary benefits for traits at the chimeric state, further positioning coral chimerism as an evolutionary rescue instrument. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying this suggestion remain unknown. Results To address this question, we developed field monitoring and multi-omics approaches to compare the responses of chimeric and non-chimeric colonies acclimated for 1 year at 10-m depth or exposed to a stressful environmental change (translocation from 10- to 2-m depth for 48h). We showed that chimerism in the stony coral Stylophora pistillata is associated with higher survival over a 1-year period. Transcriptomic analyses showed that chimeras lose transcriptomic plasticity and constitutively express at higher level (frontload) genes responsive to stress. This frontloading may prepare the colony to face at any time environmental stresses which explain its higher robustness. Conclusions These results show that chimeras are environmentally robust entities with an enhanced ability to cope with environmental stress. Results further document the potential usefulness of chimeras as a novel reef restoration tool to enhance coral adaptability to environmental change, and confirm that coral chimerism can be an evolutionary rescue instrument.


Chimera, Corals, Global change, Transcriptomics, Plasticity, robustness, Environmental change

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Vidal-Dupiol Jeremie, Harscouet Erwan, Shefy Dor, Toulza Eve, Rey Olivier, Allienne Jean-François, Mitta Guillaume, Rinkevich Baruch (2022). Frontloading of stress response genes enhances robustness to environmental change in chimeric corals. Bmc Biology. 20 (1). 167 (18p.).,

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