Comparative Genomics of Non-Model Invertebrates

ESR Project 7: Using an 'OMICS' approach to uncover novel biosynthetic pathways in sponges

Supervisor: Grace McCormack (NUIG Galway), Co-supervisor Denis Tagu (INRA Rennes)

Objectives: Haplosclerid demosponges, one of the most diverse sponge groups, produce a range of bioactive compounds potentially useful for developing novel antimicrobial, antiviral & anticancer drugs, such as steroids, alkaloids, and especially a unique diversity of 3-alkylpyridine derivatives. The complexity of these compounds, likely of sponge origin, varies across species suggesting differences in as yet unknown biosynthesis pathways. We will extend the scarce genome and transcriptome data for haplosclerids to identify bioactive compound pathways in a broader variety of Haplosclerida, esp. for the 3-alkylpyridine derivatives.

O1: Generate genomes from Haliclona oculata (type species of genus), H. simulans, and H. indistincta. These species have been selected because they are accessible, belong to different major haplosclerid groups (clades) and have previously been determined to produce specific (and different) bioactive compounds.

O2: Generate additional transcriptomes from H. cinerea, H. viscosa, H. mucuosa, easily accessible around Ireland and the Mediterranean, for comparative purposes.

O3: Combine comparative data-mining and metabolomics to identify genes involved in 3-alkylpyridine derivative production and understand their evolution.

O4: Explore epigenetic factors that may influence compound production by experimental manipulation of sponges in research aquaria, followed by metabolomics and expression studies of targeted pathways.

O5: Attempt production of one targeted natural product using recombinant gene expression.
Secondments: Dominique Lavenier (INRIA, Rennes), Denis Tagu (Rennes), Lyubomir Penev (Pensoft Publishers, Sofia).

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