Glowing Trio under the Sea: Nitrogen fixer joins algae inside coral

9:01am, August 11, 2004

A Caribbean coral that fluoresces orange appears to be the first ever found to contain a symbiotic microbe that converts elemental nitrogen into a biologically usable form, as bacteria in the roots of bean plants do.

The glow of Montastraea cavernosa doesn't come from the coral tissue itself but from cyanobacteria that take up residence there, say Michael P. Lesser of the University of New Hampshire in Durham and his colleagues.

Associations between corals and cyanobacteria have been under discussion for a while, says Lesser, and DNA analyses of coral samples have turned up signatures of those microbes. Lesser contends the new paper "is finally hard evidence that there are cyanobacteria living symbiotically in corals."

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