The fire coral genus Millepora is widely represented by two species in the tropical western Atlantic. Millepora complanta and Millepora alciornis grow upward from encrusting bases, and colonies of both species exhibit varying degrees of branching (Tepper 2000). These multiple growth forms create ambiguities as to whether the two species, as currently recognized, represent cohesive and independent lineages or are part of one species group.
I propose to initiate a genetic fingerprint analysis in order to determine: 1) If the species of fire coral in the western Atlantic (Bahamas) are heterogeneous assemblages of genetically distinct forms, 2) If the described species are a spectrum of colony growth forms reflecting ecological conditions rather than genetic isolation, and/or 3) Whether the range of growth forms are a result of extensive hybridization.
I plan to begin to answer these questions using two DNA fingerprint techniques. The first technique is called Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphism (AFLP) analysis. This PCR-based (Polymerase Chain Reaction) DNA fingerprint analysis has been used successfully in other taxonomic studies involving coral (Lopez, et al. 1999). Randomly selected DNA restriction enzyme fragments are amplified using PCR and these DNA products can be compared to DNA products of other individuals of the same species or to other species (Mueller, et al. 1996).
The second technique is Random Amplified Polymorphic DNA (RAPD). RAPD analysis is also a PCR based technique that utilizes short primers of arbitrary nucleotide sequence (Newton and Graham 1997). Total genomic DNA is isolated and primers anneal to specific sequences of DNA at random intervals. Amplified DNA sequences can be visualized on agarose gels.
Some differences were found between the two types of fire corals but they are not conclusive until the DNA somatic tissue samples are compared to the gametic tissue samples.
Monique Cauley, ’02 Chicago, IL
Sponsor: Craig Tepper