Genomics of coral reefs
In collaboration with Chris Voolstra, Tim Ravasi and Vladimir Bajic from KAUST, we are in the process of sequencing the dinoflagellate (Symbiodinium) and the host Stylophora genomes. As well as providing insight into the symbiotic interactions of this important habitat, this group is also important for studying host-parasite relationships.
Dinoflagellates are ubiquitous marine and freshwater protists. As free-living photosynthetic plankton, they account for ~50% of the primary productivity of oceans and lakes. As photosynthetic symbionts, they provide essential nutrients to corals that are the architects of one of the most productive ecosystems: coral reefs. Dinoflagellates are adapted to a wide variety of environments as reflected by a tremendous diversity in form and nutrition. Additionally, they play important roles as parasites and predators, and form the evolutionary sister group to the apicomplexans that are best known for being human and animal pathogens (e.g. Plasmodium as the agent of malaria).
The sequencing of a dinoflagellate genome will not only inform us about the supposedly enormous gene repertoire of dinoflagellates, it will also help us understand the capacities, weaknesses, and evolution of parasitism and mutualism. Furthermore, it will aid in explaining some remarkable features of dinoflagellate biology such as their unique genome structure and gene regulation. Additionally, dinoflagellates are directly associated with coral bleaching, red tides, and paralytic shellfish poisoning. Together these data will help establish an unprecedented perspective on the evolutionary dynamics of this mutualistic relationship and the genes and pathways involved in inter-species communication.