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Understanding of the links between coral reef ecosystems, the goods and services they provide to people, and the wellbeing of human societies.


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Examining the multi-scale dynamics of reefs, from population dynamics to macroevolution


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Coral Reef Studies

From 2005 to 2022, the main node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies was headquartered at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland (Australia)

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Glowing pigments of reef corals as indicators of environmental stress?


Friday, 20th November 2009 12.00pm - 1.00pm

ARC Centre of Excellence Conference Room, JCU (DB44) Video-link to Centre for Marine Studies, UQ
Jörg Wiedenmann, National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, UK

Jörg Wiedenmann works as Lecturer of Marine Molecular Biology at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton and is head of the Marine Biotechnology Laboratory and the Coral Reef Laboratory (http://www.noc.soton.ac.uk/corals/). He discovered green and red fluorescent GFP-like proteins in sea anemones in 1997, and proposed their application as their application as in vivo markers (Patent DE19718640A1, DPMA). His research focuses on the ecology of cnidarian pigments, the biochemistry of fluorescent proteins and chromoproteins and their application as markers in biomedical research. He and his group have cloned the coding DNA of over 40 novel GFP-like proteins from marine invertebrates, with colours ranging from cyan over green and orange to the far-red region of the spectrum. He has conducted detailed biochemical and spectral characterization of the proteins and has been involved in X-ray crystallography of several fluorescent proteins. Various aspects of the impact of GFP-like proteins on the colouration of reef corals and their stress response are currently studied in the Great Barrier Reef, the Mediterranean Sea and under controlled laboratory conditions. Jörg’s research also elucidated the origin of the invasive green alga Caulerpa taxifolia, the molecular phylogeny of zooxanthellae in temperate waters and their loss in bleaching of sea anemones and the regulation of heat shock proteins in cnidarians under stress.

Jörg has published over 50 scientific papers, is peer reviewer for several international journals, a member of the NERC Peer Review College and a former member of the College of Experts at the Australian Research Council. He is member of the ARC/NHMRC Network FABLS (Australia). He was part of the organising committee and session chair at the Photonics West Conference, San Jose, USA, 2006, and member of the organizing committee of the conference “Whole organism imaging with fluorescent proteins”, San Hose, USA, 2007. His work received several awards (PhD Honorary Award 2001, £700; Merckle Research Award 2005, £3400; Award Cooperation University & Industry 2006, £2700).


A multiplicity of natural and anthropogenic stressors including global warming and ocean acidification might result in a dramatic loss of coral reefs within this century. The future of coral reefs is strongly dependent on strategies that enable identification of reef regions affected by high levels of stress to enhance management efforts on particularly vulnerable areas. The predictive capacity of currently available remote sensing techniques is limited by the fact that the forecast does not consider the multitude of stress factors that act together to increase coral mortality. Consequently, approaches are required that analyse the cumulative stress response of corals themselves in addition to alterations of environmental parameters.

Many of the spectacular purple-blue, green, or reddish hues of reef-building corals are due to protein pigments related to the green fluorescent protein (GFP). They can be divided in two major groups: the fluorescent proteins (FPs) emitting photons in the spectral range from cyan to red upon stimulation with light of suitable wavelengths and the chromoproteins (CPs) displaying bright purple to blue colors but being non-fluorescent. Fluorescent proteins from reef corals and allies are routinely applied as biosensors in biomedical and pharmaceutical research applications.

We found the expression of fluorescent proteins in several major groups of reef building corals to be regulated by environmental factors including thermal stress. The data suggest that coral pigments might serve as the urgently needed intrinsic markers of physiological processes and the overall health in corals that might allow a non-invasive, fast and low cost method to assess stress levels in coral reef communities.

The talk will introduce different groups of glowing coral pigments and discuss properties that might affect the suitability of host pigments to be used as a cumulative indicator of coral health.


Australian Research Council Pandora

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