|Marine Genomics – Unraveling the code for a better world|
What is Marine Genomics and how does it fit the future of the Whitney Lab?
The field of genomics is, as you might expect, derived from the word genome which is the catalog of all of the DNA present in an organism’s chromosomes (e.g. human genome, mouse genome, etc.). However, the term genomics is being increasingly used less rigorously to describe work that involves the large-scale analysis of the genes of an organism, including everything from the genome itself, to what parts of the genome are used by any particular cell at any particular time (the pattern of gene expression), to how the pattern of gene expression is controlled. More applied aspects of genomics include tracking changes in the pattern of gene expression and using those changes as a way to identify changes in the biology of that organism in response to physiological (e.g. sensory or hormonal), environmental or pathological influences. We can learn enormous amounts of information about organisms by way of genomic analyses, so much so that it can be argued that genomics is the essence of modern biology
By the same rationale, the term marine genomics encompasses all work that involves the analysis and use of genes in marine organisms, and is at the heart of modern marine biology.
Faculty at the Whitney Lab are currently using marine genomics in their research. For example, Dr. Leonid Moroz is characterizing the genomes of the sea hare Aplysia and the ctenophore Pleurobachia. He is using genomic tools to study the patterns of gene expression in nerve cells of Aplysia and how that pattern changes during learning and memory. Dr. Barbara Battelle is studying how gene expression changes in the eye of the horseshoe crab Limulus in response to light and input from the animal’s circadian clock, while Dr. Dirk Bucher is studying how patterns of gene expression change to allow nerve circuits to repair damage. Marine genomics will also play an important role in the Matanzas River Basin Biodiveristy Initiative with the introduction of bar coding, a genomic technique that uses species-specific genetic markers to catalog organisms.
At the same time, we are looking to take advantage of the excellent technical resources available in the Lab and the rich and diverse collection of marine and coastal environments in our immediate vicinity to encourage University of Florida faculty based in Gainesville to establish research programs at Whitney. We are also looking to develop partnerships with various academic, governmental and corporate entities that might capitalize on the strength of the technical and intellectual resources for marine genomics present at the Lab. We have, for example, already begun discussions with the St. Johns River Water Management District about the possibility of using marine genomics to characterize the algal populations of the St. Johns River, and with the Georgia Aquarium to study populations of manta rays off our coast.
To fully capitalize on the opportunities offered by marine genomics, the Whitney Lab is planning to develop a state-of-the-art sequencing center which will provide high-throughput, next generation sequencing capability on-site.