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Professor Laura Mydlarz was fascinated with ocean life from a young age and now runs a marine biology lab at a university.

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After studying tropical ecosystems and coral reefs in college, she never looked back.

She brings her explorations across the Caribbean to listeners and explains

  • How coral reefs and their formation depend on their algal symbiont for their sustenance,
  • Why pathogens affect the photosynthetic ability of the symbionts, and
  • How learning to turn on mitochondrial rescue modes of coral cells might be one path to effective treatment.

Dr. Laura D. Mydlarz is a professor of biology and an associate dean of the College of Science at the University of Texas in Arlington. She shares her passion for ocean life with listeners and discusses the intricate and ancient immunity of coral reefs and their importance to ocean ecology.

She notes that scientists often focus on the pathogen when consider coral disease treatment, but she focuses more on understanding what the host is doing to fight disease and studies coral immunity systems.  She looks mainly at reactions to coral infectious diseases caused by bacteria, fungus and even some pathogenic viruses; corals face such pathogens just like humans.

However, she explains, corals are a much more ancient life form and they work with one type of immunity—innate—whereas humans can use innate and acquired immunity. However, their immunity is still much more complex than scientists thought. She describes this intricate immunity, one that must allow this other living organism, the symbiont algae, inside it without fighting it.

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Furthermore, the healthy algae is contributing a lot of resources and food to the coral and pathogens can affect both life forms, leading to coral reefs dying. They need all the energy they can get to mount an immune defense, and suffer when, for example, the symbiont is no longer able to photosynthesize because of the color changes from disease. She explains coral ecology in further detail and how issues like climate change play a role.

Finally, she describes her more immediate goals, which include understanding the proper or healthy immune response of coral.

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Thus far, they’ve found interesting implications regarding mitochondrial defense systems and melanin presence. 

To find out more, see her lab’s website:

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