[Coral-List] Thoughts on "Coral Holobiont" Phrase

hodel at nova.edu hodel at nova.edu
Mon Jul 16 13:11:12 EDT 2007

Dear Coral-List:

Several months ago, I posted a message inquiring about the origin of  
the phrase “coral holobiont.”  Although I did not find the first  
person to definitively use the phrase “coral holobiont,” one of the  
two responses I received suggested Dr. Lynn Margulis may have been the  
one to coin the word “holobiont” in her contributions to endosymbiotic  

A general definition of “holobiont” is a host-symbiont partnership  
(Santiago-Vázquez et al., 2006), though the word does not appear in  
online dictionaries or encyclopedias.  Web searches for “holobiont”  
are very coral-centric.  Perhaps our discipline has adopted and uses  
it more so than other biological disciplines?  Coral papers have used  
the phrase “coral holobiont” to refer to the symbiosis between coral  
animals and zooxanthellae (e.g., Rowan, 1998).  However, more recent  
papers use it to refer to the coral animal, zooxanthellae, and  
associated microbiota (i.e., bacteria, fungi and/or archaea) (e.g.  
Wegley et al., 2004).  As research and technology have advanced our  
understanding of corals and associated organisms, it seems the  
definition has adapted accordingly.

The term also appeared in the title of one of the sessions in the last  
ASLO summer meeting in Honolulu (“Coral Holobiont, Coral Health and  
Disease, and Environmental Change”),  supporting its growing use and  
popularity.  Apologies if I have left out other significant  
contributions to this phrase.


Law, R. and U. Dieckmann. 1998. Symbiosis through exploitation and the  
merger of lineages in evolution. Proceedings of the Royal Society of  
London B, 265: 1245-1253.

Margulis, L. 1993. Symbiosis in cell evolution, 2nd edn. New York: W.  
H. Freeman.

Rowan, R. 1998. Diversity and ecology of zooxanthellae on coral reefs  
(review). Journal of Phycology, 34(3): 407-417.

Santiago-Vázquez, L. Z., L. K. Ranzer, and R. G. Kerr. 2006.  
Comparison of two total RNA extraction protocols using the marine  
gorgonian coral Pseudopterogorgia elisabethae and its symbiont  
Symbiodinium sp.  Electronic Journal of Biotechnology [online], 5(9).  
Available from:  

Wegley, L., Y. Yu, M. Breitbart, V. Casas, D.I. Kline, and F. Rohwer.  
2004. Coral-associated Archaea. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 273:  

Erin C. Hodel, M.S.
Project Scientist 1
CSA International, Inc.
759 Parkway Street
Jupiter, Florida 33477
Tel: (561) 746-7946
Fax: (561) 747-2954
Email:  ehodel at conshelf.com
Web:  www.csaintl.com

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