Telomeres are the repetitive sequences of DNA and associated proteins that cap the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes and play an essential role in maintaining chromosome stability. Compromised telomeres can lead to cell cycle arrest, senescence, apoptosis, or genetic instability, whereas maintenance of telomeres can endow cells with the capacity for indefinite self-renewal. Telomere integrity is maintained in most cells by the activity of telomerase, a ribonucleoprotein that can catalyze the addition of repeat sequences onto chromosome ends. Using the telomeric repeat amplification protocol (TRAP) assay, we detected telomerase activity in host nuclear extracts prepared from two scleractinian corals, Madracis auretenra and Madracis decactis, and also in cultured Symbiodinium, the symbiotic algae that live within corals. Sequencing the TRAP reaction products indicated that the telomeric DNA repeat sequence was TTAGGG for coral and TTTAGGG for Symbiodinium. Using this sequence information, we estimated telomere lengths by terminal restriction fragment (TRF) analysis to be greater than 19 kb for several species of coral and their associated Symbiodinium. Maintenance of coral telomeres by telomerase activity may be a mechanism that confers continuous growth and reproductive plasticity to these long-lived organisms.

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