This striking sea anemone, Exaiptasia pallida, isn’t dressed for a big night out. The red fluorescence spots are caused by the algae it is hosting.
The reason? Researchers hope it might help them understand what factors govern algae’s successful partnership with coral, which helps coral reefs grow.
Sea anemones are part of the same phylum as coral, called cnidaria, they also host algae – and they are a lot easier to study.
In recent work led by Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, researchers analysed the differences in cellular function that occurred when Exaiptasia pallida was populated by two different genera of algae: one native and highly susceptible to thermal bleaching, and the other non-native but more heat-resistant.
They found that anemones colonised by native algae expressed elevated levels of proteins associated with nutrients that can be efficiently synthesised as a consequence of the algae’s photosynthetic activity.
In contrast, anemones with the non-native tenant expressed proteins associated with stress.
The findings are published in The ISME Journal.