MBL, WOODS HOLE, MA Though the slow moving purple sea urchin may look oblivious, lacking a head, eyes and ears, this prickly creature has an impressive suite of sensory receptors to detect outside signals. And don't overlook this animal's self-defense abilities: it has much more ammunition to activate its innate immune system than humans have. The starlet sea anemone lives in coastal areas that face increasing pollution, and it is better equipped than many land, ocean, and freshwater animals to tolerate environmental stress.
These insights into the biology of marine organisms didn't come from observational studies; they were revealed by deciphering and comparing the animals' genomes. The powerful advantages of using gene catalogs to infer biological function in marine animals are highlighted in a virtual symposium in the June issue of The Biological Bulletin, published by the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
Emerging research on the genomic structure of marine organisms is giving scientists new clues as to how certain physiological systems evolved. The genomes of ancient Cnidarians, of which the jellyfish is best known, are being used to discern how cells adhere to form organs and organisms. The genome of Ridgeia piscesae, a tubeworm that has co-evolved with bacteria to thrive in the extreme environment of deep-sea hydrothermal vents, is illuminating the molecular underpinnings of symbiosis.
Genetic sequencing, a once-expensive technology, continues to enjoy reductions in cost and increases in speed that allow even smaller laboratories to produce molecular "maps" to study and compare organisms.
"Science runs on three things very bright ideas, improved technology and the money to do the research," says R. Andrew Cameron of the California Institute of Technology, who organized The Biological Bulletin virtual symposium along with Jonathan P. Rast of the University of Toronto.
|Contact: Carol Schachinger|
Marine Biological Laboratory