Within each coral, millions of macro and microorganisms are using chemistry to communicate not only with themselves, but also with their environment. These molecules can be detected through various analytical techniques and provide clues into how coral chemistry can facilitate ecological stability. By rapidly identifying the different molecules found on our reefs, we can begin to understand what types of chemical conversations are happening on our reefs in real-time.
Using a highly sensitive analytical technique known as mass spectrometry, specialized metabolites expressed within the coral holobiome can be detected and visualized. Data acquired by mass spec can be introduced into The Global Natural Product Social Networking platform (gnps.ucsd.edu) where metabolites are rapidly identified based on their fragmentation pattern similarities to known molecules. GNPS also allows for the rapid visualization of metabolites that are structurally similar. These families of molecules will ultimately allow investigators deeper understandings into the chemical space of our coral reefs.