The symbiotic relationship between Symbiodinium, a dinoflagellate algae, and its cnidarian hosts corals,seaanemones,sponges,molluscs... are often described as mutualistic--but beneath the veneer of friendship, is there an undercurrent of competition lurking between symbiont and hosts for the scarce resources available? We use genomics and molecular tools to probe whether there is any love lost between these players!
Most corals grow slowly, hard to rear in a laboratory setting, and they die rapidly after bleaching. In order to study the biological processes occuring at the onset of symbiosis, we use a sea anemone, Aiptasia pallida, which is able to survive even when bleached of its symbionts. The availability of the Aiptasia genome also allows us to utilise genomic approaches in studying its biology.
The idea of a central dogma, a popular concept back in the 60s and 70s, is currently under constant challenge--the ability for RNA viruses to reverse-transcribe its RNA to DNA; the pervasive use of non-coding RNA siRNA,miRNA,lncRNA,... in regulating gene expression; and the existence of prions indicate that gene regulation is hardly straightforward. Epigenetics, in which the genome acquires heritable changes that is not directly coded in the DNA sequence, has been shown to regulate gene expression across multiple generations in humans and mice. We seek to extend our understanding of epigenetic mechanisms in cnidarians.
With temperatures ranging from 32-34°C in monthly means, coral reefs in the Arabian Gulf and the Southern Red Sea have adapted and thieve under extreme environmental conditions which exceed the temperature increase expectations for most coral locations for this century. Consequently, these waters may actually serve as a reservoir of heat tolerant genotypes that may be used to introduce the critical tolerance capacity and to accelerate adaptation. Postdoc Sebastian Schmidt-Roach explores methods for assisted gene flow in corals to advance coral reef restoration efforts.