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Research Spending & Results

Award Detail

Awardee:WOFFORD COLLEGE
Doing Business As Name:Wofford College
PD/PI:
  • Geoffrey C Mitchell
  • (864) 597-4625
  • mitchellgc@wofford.edu
Award Date:07/20/2021
Estimated Total Award Amount: $ 188,760
Funds Obligated to Date: $ 188,760
  • FY 2021=$188,760
Start Date:09/01/2021
End Date:08/31/2024
Transaction Type:Grant
Agency:NSF
Awarding Agency Code:4900
Funding Agency Code:4900
CFDA Number:47.074
Primary Program Source:040100 NSF RESEARCH & RELATED ACTIVIT
Award Title or Description:RUI: Evaluating how cnidarian hosts and algal endosymbionts coordinate cell divisions to maintain healthy symbiosis
Federal Award ID Number:2116128
DUNS ID:078060613
Parent DUNS ID:078060613
Program:Symbiosis Infection & Immunity
Program Officer:
  • Patrick Abbot
  • (703) 292-7820
  • dabbot@nsf.gov

Awardee Location

Street:429 North Church Street
City:Spartanburg
State:SC
ZIP:29303-3663
County:Spartanburg
Country:US
Awardee Cong. District:04

Primary Place of Performance

Organization Name:Wofford College
Street:429 North Church Street
City:Spartanburg
State:SC
ZIP:29303-3663
County:Spartanburg
Country:US
Cong. District:04

Abstract at Time of Award

The corals responsible for building tropical reefs are disappearing at an alarming rate as elevated sea temperatures cause them to bleach and expel the algal symbionts they rely on. Without these symbionts, corals are unable to harvest energy from sunlight and, therefore, struggle to thrive or even survive in the nutrient-poor waters of the tropics. To devise solutions to address the threat to coral reefs, it is necessary to understand the cellular events underpinning the bleaching process. Indeed, little is known about how healthy corals and symbionts coordinate cell divisions even though the algae reside within individual coral cells. In fact, uncoupling of coral and algal cell divisions has been implicated in bleaching. The objectives for this proposal are to determine what role dysregulation of the algal cell cycle plays in bleaching and to assess two mechanisms implicated in regulation of symbiont cell division. Understanding this may inform strategies for mitigating coral bleaching. At Wofford College, this proposal will fund nine undergraduate research projects, generate publicly available sequencing data that will transform bioinformatics instruction, and provide material support for course-based undergraduate research at all levels of the undergraduate biology curriculum. Students who participate in course-based research benefit similarly to students who participate in traditional research programs; however, because they occur during the regular semester, these courses lack the barriers to access that prevent participation by students from underrepresented groups. Altogether, the proposed activities will enhance educational outcomes for more than 50 undergraduates at South Carolina’s most economically diverse college. The objectives for this project will be accomplished by completing three specific aims: (1) to measure the link between heat stress and increased symbiont proliferation; (2) to assess phosphate limitation as a mechanism used by hosts to regulate algal proliferation by evaluating gene expression and membrane lipid composition in cultured symbionts compared to symbionts in hosts; and (3) to pharmacologically and genetically alter the pH of the intracellular compartment separating symbionts from their hosts and measure the effect of pH on algal cell division. The central hypothesis is that heat stress causes an uncoupling of host and symbiont cell cycles, which are coordinated through phosphate exchange and the pH of the algal microenvironment. This work is important for the field because to address stress-induced bleaching, the mechanisms responsible for maintaining healthy symbiosis must be uncovered. Indeed, if the cellular traits dictating thermotolerance are elucidated, it will be easier to predict which corals are most susceptible to climate change and to focus conservation efforts on those species. Likewise, certain species of algal symbiont are resistant to heat-induced bleaching. One proposed explanation is that thermotolerant species are slower to divide, making them less likely to over-proliferate at high temperatures and burden their hosts. Our work will provide insight into this and may make it easier to determine the best species to inoculate into juvenile corals being used for reef restoration. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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