Coral cell separation and isolation by fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS)

Benyamin Rosental, Zhanna Kozhekbaeva, Nathaniel Fernhoff, Jonathan M. Tsai, Nikki Traylor-Knowles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Generalized methods for understanding the cell biology of non-model species are quite rare, yet very much needed. In order to address this issue, we have modified a technique traditionally used in the biomedical field for ecological and evolutionary research. Fluorescent activated cell sorting (FACS) is often used for sorting and identifying cell populations. In this study, we developed a method to identify and isolate different cell populations in corals and other cnidarians. Methods: Using fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS), coral cell suspension were sorted into different cellular populations using fluorescent cell markers that are non-species specific. Over 30 different cell markers were tested. Additionally, cell suspension from Aiptasia pallida was also tested, and a phagocytosis test was done as a downstream functional assay. Results: We found that 24 of the screened markers positively labeled coral cells and 16 differentiated cell sub-populations. We identified 12 different cellular sub-populations using three markers, and found that each sub-population is primarily homogeneous. Lastly, we verified this technique in a sea anemone, Aiptasia pallida, and found that with minor modifications, a similar gating strategy can be successfully applied. Additionally, within A. pallida, we show elevated phagocytosis of sorted cells based on an immune associated marker. Conclusions: In this study, we successfully adapted FACS for isolating coral cell populations and conclude that this technique is translatable for future use in other species. This technique has the potential to be used for different types of studies on the cellular stress response and other immunological studies.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number30
JournalBMC Cell Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 29 Aug 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Cell isolation
  • Cell sorting
  • Cellular labeling
  • Coral
  • FACS

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cell Biology


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