Model systems approaches search for commonality in patterns underlying biological diversity and complexity led by common evolutionary paths. The success of the approach does not rest on the species chosen but on the scalability of the model and methods used to develop the model and engage research. Fine-tuning approaches to improve coral cell cultures will provide a robust platform for studying symbiosis breakdown, the calcification mechanism and its disruption, protein interactions, micronutrient transport/exchange, and the toxicity of nanoparticles, among other key biological aspects, with the added advantage of minimizing the ethical conundrum of repeated testing on ecologically threatened organisms. The work presented here aimed to lay the foundation towards development of effective methods to sort and culture reef-building coral cells with the ultimate goal of obtaining immortal cell lines for the study of bleaching, disease and toxicity at the cellular and polyp levels. To achieve this objective, the team conducted a thorough review and tested the available methods (i.e. cell dissociation, isolation, sorting, attachment and proliferation). The most effective and reproducible techniques were combined to consolidate culture methods and generate uncontaminated coral cell cultures for ∼7 days (10 days maximum). The tests were conducted on scleractinian corals Pocillopora acuta of the same genotype to harmonize results and reduce variation linked to genetic diversity. The development of cell separation and identification methods in conjunction with further investigations into coral cell-type specific metabolic requirements will allow us to tailor growth media for optimized monocultures as a tool for studying essential reef-building coral traits such as symbiosis, wound healing and calcification at multiple scales.
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