NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. From a bucket of seawater, scientists have unlocked information that may lead to deeper understanding of organisms as different as coral reefs and human disease. By analyzing genomes of a tiny, single-celled marine animal, they have demonstrated a possible way to address diverse questions such as how diseased cells differ from neighboring healthy cells and what it is about some Antarctic algae that allows them to live in warming waters while other algae die out.
Debashish Bhattacharya, professor of ecology, evolution and natural resources in Rutgers' School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, and Ramunas Stepanauskas and Hwan Su Yoon of the Bigelow Laboratory of Ocean Sciences, have published their results in the journal Science. They used sophisticated new technologies to sequence the genomes of individual picobilophytes, tiny microbes first discovered in 2007. At less than 10 micrometers across, they are some of the tiniest marine animals known to science.
"If we can peer inside the genome of a single cell and reconstruct its history, we can do that for many cells and figure out their interactions with other cells in the environment," Bhattacharya said. For example, why do different cancer cells from the same tumor grow at different rates? Their genomes might contain the answer, and the answer might lead to more effective treatment strategies.
"Our results demonstrate how single cell genomics opens a window into the natural drama that constantly takes place in each drop of seawater a drama featuring predation, viral infections, and the divergent fate of close relatives," Stepanauskas said. "The outcomes of this drama have profound effects on the lives of larger marine organisms, such as commercially valuable fish."
Bhattacharya and Oscar Schofield, professor of marine science, are now working to apply these techniques to Antarctic algae. Some species traditionally found along the West
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