ISME Journal ( 2021)
Elevated seawater temperatures have contributed to the rise of coral disease mediated by bacterial pathogens, such as the globally distributed Vibrio coralliilyticus, which utilizes coral mucus as a chemical cue to locate stressed corals. However, the physiological events in the pathogens that follow their entry into the coral host environment remain unknown. Here, we present simultaneous measurements of the behavioral and transcriptional responses of V. coralliilyticus BAA-450 incubated in coral mucus. Video microscopy revealed a strong and rapid chemokinetic behavioral response by the pathogen, characterized by a two-fold increase in average swimming speed within 6 min of coral mucus exposure. RNA sequencing showed that this bacterial behavior was accompanied by an equally rapid differential expression of 53% of the genes in the V. coralliilyticus genome. Specifically, transcript abundance 10 min after mucus exposure showed upregulation of genes involved in quorum sensing, biofilm formation, and nutrient metabolism, and downregulation of flagella synthesis and chemotaxis genes. After 60 min, we observed upregulation of genes associated with virulence, including zinc metalloproteases responsible for causing coral tissue damage and algal symbiont photoinactivation, and secretion systems that may export toxins. Together, our results suggest that V. coralliilyticus employs a suite of behavioral and transcriptional responses to rapidly shift into a distinct infection mode within minutes of exposure to the coral microenvironment.