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Chemistry - Ecology - Physiology

Aragonite Precipitation by “Proto-Polyps” in Coral Cell Cultures
Published: Friday, April 13, 2012
Author: Tali Mass et al.

by Tali Mass, Jeana L. Drake, Liti Haramaty, Yair Rosenthal, Oscar M. E. Schofield, Robert M. Sherrell, Paul G. Falkowski

The mechanisms of coral calcification at the molecular, cellular and tissue levels are poorly understood. In this study, we examine calcium carbonate precipitation using novel coral tissue cultures that aggregate to form “proto-polyps”. Our goal is to establish an experimental system in which calcification is facilitated at the cellular level, while simultaneously allowing in vitro manipulations of the calcifying fluid. This novel coral culturing technique enables us to study the mechanisms of biomineralization and their implications for geochemical proxies. Viable cell cultures of the hermatypic, zooxanthellate coral, Stylophora pistillata, have been maintained for 6 to 8 weeks. Using an enriched seawater medium with aragonite saturation state similar to open ocean surface waters (Oarag~4), the primary cell cultures assemble into “proto-polyps” which form an extracellular organic matrix (ECM) and precipitate aragonite crystals. These extracellular aragonite crystals, about 10 µm in length, are formed on the external face of the proto-polyps and are identified by their distinctive elongated crystallography and X-ray diffraction pattern. The precipitation of aragonite is independent of photosynthesis by the zooxanthellae, and does not occur in control experiments lacking coral cells or when the coral cells are poisoned with sodium azide. Our results demonstrate that proto-polyps, aggregated from primary coral tissue culture, function (from a biomineralization perspective) similarly to whole corals. This approach provides a novel tool for investigating the biophysical mechanism of calcification in these organisms.