Lab News & Events

Three-Dimensional Molecular Cartography of the Caribbean Reef-Building Coral Orbicella faveolata

Apr 08, 2021
Dr. Forest Rohwer and Dr. Ty Roach sampling the coral colony

Dr. Ty Roach and Dr. Forest Rohwer sample the coral colony, Orbicella faveolata. Photo credit: Dr. Ben Mueller.

Congratulations to Ph.D. candidate Mark Little, former lab member Emma George, other members of the Rohwer Lab, and collaborators from other institutions for their recent publication, Three-Dimensional Molecular Cartography of the Caribbean Reef-Building Coral Orbicella faveolata, which was published in “Frontiers in Marine Science.” For this project, they  looked at the holobiont (corals and their microbiome) of coral colonies on the southern Caribbean island Curacao. Using pictures and data taken from sampling sites, they constructed three-dimensional models of the colonies, specifically O. faveolata, to look closely at the microbial diversity, microbial gene expression, and biochemistry. The models allowed them to map the microbial diversity and metabolites onto the colonies and other interacting organisms, such as, algae and competing corals. To do this, they used four unique “-omics” techniques coupled with spatial reconstruction.

The goal of this study was to investigate the ecological and spatial drivers of the sampled Coral colonies. They linked microbial and viral functions to specific bacterial groups that are key parts of the coral microbiome. Looking at the connections between viruses, microbes, and metabolites across a single coral colony helps contribute to an understanding of the interactions between these organisms and their systems. Corals are vulnerable to diseases that stem from changes in the healthy microbiome, thus knowing the roles of microbes and viruses in healthy coral systems is imperative to identifying the causes of coral disease. 

Mark Little, Emma George, and their co-researchers hope to use the approaches of this study to address spatial patterns of coral holobionts at the whole reef level or at larger scales, such as, island chains or ocean basins. They would also like to study what other factors affect the functions of microbes and viruses within the coral community. 

To read the full study, please click the link below.

News Article

This Week in Virology (TWiV)

Mar 24, 2021

Check out This Week in Virology (TWiV) to hear Dr. Rohwer and Ph.D. candidate Maria-Isabel Rojas discuss the #swab4corona project. For this, they get help from citizen scientists sampling their urban environment, and analyze the samples for SARSCoV2 and other RNA viruses. They have found that RNA from SarsCoV2 was rare on surfaces and the probability of fomites transmission was low. To hear more about their methods and results, listen to this episode.

News Article

Coral Reef Arks

Feb 04, 2021

Coral Reef Arks

Coral Reef Arks, or “Arks,” were conceived to address the global demand for new technologies that combat the widespread degradation of coral reefs. By translocating corals into the water column above or afar, ample distance is provided from degraded substrates, along with improved access to light, flow, and Drawings of divers deploying ARKS here nutrients. Through the process of migrating corals and surrounding reef organisms to promote their health, Arks will create thriving “mini-reef” communities to support conservation and restoration goals.

Divers deploying ARKS
Divers deploying ARKS

Rohwer lab doctoral student Jason Baer spent the past year building and testing Arks structures off the San Diego coast. Albeit the non-tropical San Diego region does not exhibit reef-building corals, the colder, temperate waters are rich with life, and the violentcoastal waters offer a perfect opportunity to test the durability of the Arks structures. To Jason’s surprise, it only took a few short weeks for the Ark to become completely colonized by a diverse community of hydrozoans,nudibranchs, fish, urchins, bryozoans, crabs and more. Although travelrestrictions are still in effect due to the CoVID-19 pandemic, Jason will continue to test how the Arks influence and are influenced by the environment around them before taking Arks to the Caribbean to deploy them on coral reefs.

The benefits of a global network of Arks include expansion of coral reefs to new sites, creation of fisheries, and preservation of coral reef functions and biodiversity. For this project, the Rohwer Lab has raised nearly $10 million dollars for this cross-disciplinary project which includes scientists, artists, engineers, lawyers, and businesspeople with one common goal: conservation and restoration of coral reefs

To read more about this project, check out our associated site: and follow our site and social medias for updates.

The artwork included was created by local artist Ben Darby. Please read our recent post about him to learn more!


Artist Ben Darby uses illustration to communicate important scientific findings and ideas

Jan 27, 2021

Ben Darby, a local San Diego artist, has worked with Dr. Rohwer for 10 years by providing illustrations and creative expertise for various projects. His art has been featured in Dr. Rohwer’s textbook “Life in Our Phage World,” the CoVID-19 environmental sampling project, as well as Dr. Rohwer’s upcoming book, “P.H.A.G.E.S”. Using mainly pen and ink, Ben creates art that communicates important scientific findings or ideas to scientists as well as citizens. He enjoys the freedom he is given by Dr. Rohwer to interpret scientific icons or processes and create visually appealing pieces that aid in breaking down complex ideas. He hopes that his illustrations will aid in cementing the points that scientists are trying to convey. Not only does he put pen to paper, but he takes the time to educate himself on the research and topics he works on, which he refers to as “private tutoring.” Ben says the biggest reward for doing this work is contributing to meaningful scientific contributions and helping others understand and visualize these findings.

Scientific art pieces by Ben Darby will be featured routinely on this site and can also be found on his website: Below are pieces created by Ben for the CoVID-19 project the Rohwer Lab is currently working on. The first is a drawing he produced of the SARS-CoV-2 virus with its envelope and spike proteins. Other drawings are of animal species that have been thought to play important roles in the transmission of this, and other, SARS-viruses, such as a Pangolin, a Camel, and a Bat.

Check back again for more features of Ben Darby’s art, including pieces from Dr. Rohwer’s upcoming book, “P.H.A.G.E.S”.

Ben Darby artwork Ben Darby artworkBen Darby artwork Ben Darby artwork

Light at the End of the Tunnel: Why N95/KN95 masks work

Jan 23, 2021


Lili Todd is a student at Artcenter College of Design where she majors in Illustration design. After working with Forest Rohwer to create posters depicting symbiosis and coral reefs, Dr. Rohwer asked Lili to create a series of posters for public awareness of the ongoing CoVID-19 epidemic, a topic being researched in the Rohwer Lab. For this series, they chose to first focus on the importance of wearing a mask, specifically an N95/KN95. Lili then created other posters to provide information on how the vaccine works to defend the body against the virus. Dr. Rohwer and Lili hope this series will provide clear and concise scientific explanations for exactly how masks, the virus, and the vaccine work. Lili says, “We all deserve to be provided with simple scientific explanations for why things are how they are today and the chance to process and understand them”. With these eye-catching illustrations, Lili hopes to encourage in her viewers a desire to understand the science behind the virus and the precautions we can take that will save people from the spread of CoVID-19. 

These posters will be available to print for free here:

Feel free to print them out for your own home or to hang around your neighborhood. There is a version of each poster in English and Spanish. The posters will also be posted in a square format on Instagram. Please share and re-post them to spread the science!

Lili Todd poster: N95 maks work Lili Todd poster: N95 maks work


Symbioses between different organisms build ecosystems like coral reefs.

Jan 19, 2021
Lili Todd poster Lili Todd poster

Lili Todd created these two posters to show how symbioses between different organisms build ecosystems like coral reefs. She wants her posters to bring awareness to the negative impact humans have on these environments by overfishing, among other stressors. Lili specifically hopes these posters will be useful for educators like teachers, homeschooling parents, and scientists, with the goal of bringing learning beyond the textbook and making a connection to art in the education system. The original posters are printed on a risograph machine. To make these posters accessible to all, Lili has provided a free printable poster on her website ( 

The posters were created a part of the SINC: Symbiosis in Nature and Community class at the ArtCenter College of Design. For her class, Lili worked with her teachers Esther Watson, Eric Nyquist, and Steve Weissman, as well as SDSU’s very own Dr. Forest Rohwer. The SINC class was a collaborative educational experiment between the ArtCenter College of Design and Dr. Chris Dupont ( and partially funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF; Grant No. IOS 1926972). The goal of this collaboration was to explore the intersection of art and science and the effects this combination has on translating and communicating the impact of the symbiotic relationships in the natural world.