The phylum of cnidarians includes corals, anemone and jellyfish and these species' symbiotic relationship with algae is a classic example of relationships in nature ecology and evolution. Professor Munoz studies their coevolution in her broader field of biology and the evolution of marine life.
- How the photosynthetic nature of the algal microorganisms benefits different cnidarian species,
- How these algae come to live inside the cells through phagocytosis, and
- Why choral bleaching is a symptom reflecting warmer water temperatures.
Monica Medina Munoz is a professor of biology at Penn State and a Principal Investigator. She studies this symbiosis between cnidarians and algal and bacterial symbionts. She explains how the cnidarian host and dinoflagellate algae microorganisms, which are unicellular and photosynthetic, exemplify the coevolution of marine life.
The algae are endosymbiotic, living inside the host tissue. They transfer their photosynthetic by products to their host and in turn have a place to live and photosynthesize. This interaction gives a species like coral the energy to build the reef where they life and the algae also gives the coral their colors
She explains more of this marine ecosystem, how the host can't life without the symbiont for very long, which explains the phenomenon knowns as coral bleaching. When the water temperature gets too hot, the symbiosis breaks down. This is a facultative symbiosis from the algal perspective but an obligate symbiosis from the host perspective.
She also explains how the dinoflagellate make their way into their host and the physiology of the two together. She explains some cutting edge studies into whether there are microbial symbionts as important as the algae.
The best way to find out more is to check out her lab website, medinalab.org/new/, and follow her on twitter with the handle @momedinamunoz.
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