Coral Research

CoralCoral reefs worldwide are in decline. The dramatic rise in incidences of coral disease over the last two decades has been instrumental in this process. We have hypothesized that most of these diseases are actually opportunistic infections instigated by anthropogenic stressors. Our research is focused around understanding the interactions between the microbial world and coral reefs, and how these systems change following perturbation.


Human Research

CFWe are currently investigating the dynamics of bacteria, phage, and eukaryotic viruses in the respiratory tracts of individuals with and without Cystic Fibrosis. Characterization of viral communities coupled with microbial transcriptomics and viral metagenomics will allow a better understanding of how the unique environment of the CF airway drives microbial and viral specialization and vice versa.


Phage Outreach Program

Phage OutreachOur mission is to interest high school students in the study of the Phage Virus and attract them to the field of science in the future. We will do this by sharing the most interesting aspects about the phage virus along with an educational foundation, a fun art contest, and an in-depth field trip. Additionally, 3-5 motivated students will be offered a summer internship at our lab researching the Phage Virus.


Media Galleries

Phage Art
Line Islands Photos
Reef Life Photos
Coral Reef Systems Videos


Life in Our Phage World!

Life in Our Phage World book cover

To celebrate a century of phage exploration, we invite you to get intimate with 30 diverse phages in this premier phage field guide. In these 404 pages you’ll learn who these phages are, where on Earth they’ve been found, who their close relatives are, how their genomes are structured, and how they trick their hosts into submission. Researchers who have devoted their lives to phage also recount their experiences in pursuit of their quarry.

A high-resolution file (323 Mb) and a lower resolution (75 Mb) file are available for download. For optimal viewing, display the pages with the two-page view that includes the cover.

Book Downloads

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Buy the hardcover book

Happy Halloween

Oct 31, 2014


Happy HalloweenMore news

Evolution of TNF-induced apoptosis reveals 550 My of functional conservation

Jun 10, 2014
Corals - Figure1

The Cambrian explosion occurred half a billion years ago and is considered to be one of the most dramatic periods in the history of life on earth. During this time the ancestors of all extant phyla began their evolutionary trajectories including the separation of Cnidarians (coral, sea anemones, jellyfish) and what would one day become humans.

The Tumor Necrosis Factor receptor-ligand Superfamily is a central mediator of apoptosis or programmed cell death. It was previously hypothesized that corals would possess one, if any, TNF receptors. In recent work published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences we show that corals possess more TNF-receptors than any organism described thus far, including humans.

Next we wondered what would happen if corals were exposed to a Human TNF protein. In response to Human TNF coral cells underwent the classical stages of apoptosis including cellular blebbing, caspase activation and eventual cell death.

Finally the reciprocal experiment was performed exposing human cells to one of the fourteen newly described coral TNF’s. Remarkably coral TNF also killed human cells demonstrating over half a billion years of functional conservation. This work provides important insight into the general evolution of apoptosis and specifically links TNF-mediated apoptosis with the Cambrian explosion.

Corresponding author: Steven Quistad
email: steven.quistad@gmail.com
twitter: @StevenQuistad

PNAS Article

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Coral Reefs in the Microbial Seas
by Forest Rohwer
with Merry Youle
Illustrations by Derek Vosten   

Forest Rohwer - Coral BookFor millennia, coral reefs have flourished as not only one of the planet's most magnificent ecosystems, but also as its most biodiverse. However, since the 1980s the corals have been struggling. Both coral bleaching and disease have spread globally. During recent research expeditions to the remote Line Islands, microbial ecologist Forest Rohwer and his colleagues found that the large-scale changes to the reefs in recent decades are the work of the microbes as they respond to various human impacts.

Coral Reefs in the Microbial Seas is the first book to recount this story, complete with introductions to the coral reef ecosystem, 21st century metagenomic research tools, and the coral's microbial and viral partners. An engaging book, its science is liberally spiced with artistic illustrations and playful stories from the research expeditions.

Download an excerpt from the book. (1.5 MB) · Purchase our book on Amazon.

Forest Rohwer, PhD

Forest RohwerBeing a marine microbial ecologist, Dr. Forest Rohwer sees a coral reef as a finely-tuned community in which the microbes and viruses are major players. Recognizing their importance, he pioneered the use of metagenomics as a means to characterize these previously inscrutable organisms and to investigate their role in coral reef health and disease.

For his scientific contributions, he has received numerous awards including the prestigious Young Investigators Award of the International Society of Microbial Ecology and the Marine Microbiology Initiative Investigator Award from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Linda Wegley-Kelly, PhD

Linda Wegley-KellyDrs. Wegley-Kelly and Rohwer have been working together since 2001. She has directed research projects on everything from fluorescent-labeled phage to large-scale metagenomic from deep mines, salterns, and coral reefs to ammonium oxidizing Archaea.

Linda's research group mostly works on coral-associated microbes. She uses a combination of large-scale DNA sequencing (e.g., metagenomics), analytical chemistry, and microbiology to study how the coral holobiont changes in response to local and global stressors. Linda recently showed that shipwrecks cause devastating outbreaks of algal-microbial mats the kill kilometers of coral reefs in the iron-poor parts of the central Pacific.


Rohwer Lab Members

Rohwer Lab
We have a diverse group of researchers in the lab that include undergraduate volunteers, graduate students (MS & PhD), post-docs, and visiting scientists.


Join the Lab

CoralAre you intersted in joining the Rohwer Lab? Learn about research and training opportunities available in the lab. Our lab offers research and training opportunities for students (undergraduate, MS, PhD), postdocs, and scientists.