Integrating host immune status, Labyrinthula spp. load and environmental stress in a seagrass pathosystem: Assessing immune markers and scope of a new qPCR primer set

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Recent trends suggest that marine disease outbreaks caused by opportunistic pathogens are increasing in frequency and severity. One such malady is seagrass wasting disease, caused by pathogens in the genus Labyrinthula. It is suspected that pathogenicity is intimately linked to the ability of the host to initiate defense responses; however, supportive evidence is lacking. To address this, we developed two techniques, including 1) a new qPCRbased pathogen detection method, and 2) an immune profiling panel via four host-biomarker assays (measuring peroxidase, exochitinase, polyphenol oxidase, and lysozyme activities). These techniques were then used to experimentally investigate the impact of environmental stressors (namely, elevated temperature and salinity) on host immunity and how immune status might affect susceptibility to Labyrinthula infection. In the first experiment, we subjected individual turtlegrass (Thalassia testudinum) shoots to short-term (7 d) abiotic stressors alone. In a second experiment, the same abiotic stressor conditions were followed by pathogen exposure (7 additional d), simulating a scenario where we attempt to isolate the impact of environmental stressors on the host seagrass species by removing the stressor as the pathogen is introduced. The qPCR assay successfully quantified the abundance of Labyrinthula spp. cells from both pure cultures and seagrass tissues across a broad range of predominately pathogenic strains, with high sensitivity. Immune enzyme assays revealed that all four biomarkers were constitutively active in turtlegrass individuals, but specific activities were largely unaffected by the chosen abiotic stressor conditions. We also identified positive correlations between pathogen load and two biomarkers (peroxidase, exochitinase), regardless of abiotic stress treatment, further demonstrating the potential utility of these biomarkers in future applications.

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