Project Details


Algal evolvability: Growing global human population size places significant demands on hydrocarbon resources. This has resulted in a surge in biofuel and other applied research to provide alternative energy sources that are renewable and carbon-neutral with respect to greenhouse gases. Algae have been of particular interest because of their high productivity. and because they do not usually compete for arable land and potable water. These considerations have led to the search for fast growing, stress resistant, lipid-producing algae (e.g., diatoms, green algae, chrysophytes). Target taxa would normally be subject to crop improvement by breeding (as is done for crop plants), however this approach requires knowledge about the sexual cycle that is lacking for many algae. Therefore, absent access to sexual recombination to develop hybrids and public misgivings about cultivating genetically engineered algae in open ponds, an alternative approach to strain improvement is experimental evolution. This approach relies on the natural capacity of microbes to adapt rapidly to changing environment conditions (e.g., ocean acidification) and can lead to the generation of novel traits of interest. Our planned research will determine the impact of natural selection on microalgal genome evolution and more specifically aim to demonstrate the utility of strain improvement vis-à-vis long-term selection. The output from these experiments will be measured on multiple fronts, including changes in cell size and growth rates, photosynthetic performance, gene expression, and DNA sequence (SNPs/indels). The broad premise underlying our approach is that microbes have the ability to adapt rapidly to changing environmental conditions that can lead to the generation of novel traits. This approach can also be used to 'design' strains to serve applied uses such as the need for fast-growing, salt tolerant biofuel feedstock. This experimental evolution research can lead directly to advanced methods of algal strain improvement that have many potential applications such as in the biofuel industry.Robustness of corals to climate change: In the contemporary tropical and subtropical oceans, zooxanthellate corals provide an ecological framework that retains nutrients, supports high rates of primary production, and permits extensive biological diversity. These fragile ecosystems are likely to face extinction in the coming century. Two major physiological stressors are temperature and pH; both are related to increased emissions of industry-derived CO2. We are interested in how pH changes impact coral biomineralization. Recently, in work led by the Falkowski group at Rutgers we generated a draft genome assembly of a Seriatopora sp. coral and identified a group of highly acidic proteins termed CARPs. Each of these proteins can spontaneously catalyze the precipitation of calcium carbonate in vitro in unamended natural seawater at pH 8.2 and 7.6. The role of these proteins in the precipitation of aragonite in corals is not known. To explore the role of CARPs in coral biomineralization we have undertaken a comparative analysis of all coral genome and transcriptome data to study their distribution and are studying the expression patterns of coral genes in three stages of planulae development in the stony coral Pocillopora damicornis. The coral research will help in understanding the impacts of climate change on the growth and health of these ecologically and economically important organisms.
Effective start/end date10/1/149/30/19


  • National Institute of Food and Agriculture (National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA))


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