Comparative Genomics of Non-Model Invertebrates

ESR Project 3: Genome-wide assessment of the genetic basis of invertebrate adaptation

Supervisor: Agostinho Antunes (CIIMAR Porto), Co-supervisor Grace McCormack (NUIG Galway)

Student: Yihe Zhao

Objectives: Major adaptive phenotypic changes in invertebrates, including the development of specialized functionalities for sensorial perception and predation/defense (e.g. natural venoms), occurred through the evolution of various gene products over the last 500 Ma. Understanding genomic processes responsible for their diversification provides fundamental insight about species evolution, ecological fitness, and diseases. Such naturally engineered genomic novelties also holds large potential for biotechnological applications of environmental and human health benefit, such as drug discovery or compounds to repel animal disease vectors.

O1: Characterize the diversification of multigene families involved in invertebrate adaptation in available sequenced genomes (e.g. sensory and venom genes primarily in mollusks and cnidarians, but also considering examples from other groups) complemented with deep-sequencing transcriptomics and bioinformatic analyses)

O2: Use proteomic analyses and cutting-edge computational methods to test the role of mutation and positive selection in enzymatic (e.g. complex ligand-receptor) and protein-protein interactions, followed by further validation with experimental functional assays.

O3: Translate the genomic/proteomic findings into a possible wide range of applications (e.g. gene-replacement therapies, new drugs and antidotes design, biological repellents, etc).

Secondments: Aude Violette (Alphabiotoxine, Belgium), Grace McCormack (NUIG Galway), Yu Wang (Leibniz-Supercomputing Centre of the Bavarian Academy of Science and Humanities, Munich).

*Photo credits: Clockwise from top:Textile cone snail (Conus textile) - 2005 Richard Ling; "Dragon eye" coral, Zoanthus sp. - 2013 Kazvorpal; Catostylus sp. (stingless jellyfish) - 2007 Profberger; Stomatopod crustacean (mantis shrimp) - 2008 Silke Baron; Chambered Nautilus - 2008 Hans Hillewaert; Nudibranch Berghia coerulescens - 2009 Parent Géry; Purple Polycarpa aurata (Sea squirt) - 2006 Nhobgood.

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