CAREER: Exploring Immunological Priming in a Basal Metazoan (Anthozoan). Grant

CAREER: Exploring Immunological Priming in a Basal Metazoan (Anthozoan). .


  • Coral reefs are among the most biologically diverse and economically important ecosystems on the planet. However, they are at risk of demise from ongoing and impending environmental stressors and disease-causing agents. There is a need to understand the mechanisms of resistance to pathogenic stressors by corals if we are to influence the persistence of coral reefs under current challenges. Here a research program will elucidate the specificity, memory and molecular basis of the defense response of corals upon repetitive encounters with pathogens. Understanding how the immune system of these organisms responds to pathogens may offer insights into the resilience of these ecosystems, and potentially may inform remediation of them. One clear implication would be the development of immunization protocols to improve tolerance and survival of corals and their relatives. The proposed research will increase and potentially transform our understanding of the dynamic immunological response of these basal animals, which remains grossly understudied despite the ecological and economic importance of coral reefs. Furthermore, the project will build science capacity through the training and education of the next generation of American and international young scientists. The lead investigator will develop research and educational projects to support K-12, undergraduate, and graduate students within the integrated scope of the project. A strong emphasis will be placed on developing outreach programs for Hispanic high school students and other minority students from the Miami metropolitan area with the goal of generating interest in science education and facilitating growth in the recruitment and participation of these underrepresented groups in undergraduate fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. An important aspect of this educational project is the synergy between the research laboratory of an early-career scientist, a well-established Hispanic Serving Institution (Florida International University) and the local public school system in Miami-Dade County, all joined in the mission to stimulate interest in science careers through exposure to inspired teaching. Coral diseases are of great concern since they have emerged over recent decades as a significant threat to coral reef ecosystems. In order to understand and influence the persistence of coral reefs under current challenges, it is imperative to understand the mechanisms of immunological resistance to pathogens in corals and their relatives (Cnidaria, Anthozoa). The Principal Investigator will elucidate the role of immune priming in the response of anthozoans upon repetitive encounters to infectious agents. The approach uses the sea anemone model Exaiptasia pallida to determine whether the immune system of this organism exhibits specific memory in response to infectious agents, as indicated by accelerated defensive responses upon subsequent exposures to pathogens, a phenomenon that remains largely unknown in basal metazoans. This research also investigates the lasting effect of induced protective response upon multiple repetitive pathogenic encounters. Furthermore, transcriptomic profiles and histological approaches will be used to facilitate the discovery of the molecular and cellular mechanisms underpinning the phenomenon of immune priming.

date/time interval

  • August 1, 2015 - July 31, 2022

administered by

sponsor award ID

  • 1453519