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Midwater research

Bioluminescence and molecular biology of zooplankton
Project Manager/Lead Scientist: Steve Haddock


The midwater environment is home to some of the most abundant organisms on earth. However, in many cases, the identities and relationships of these creatures are unknown. With the midwater lab team and George Matsumoto, we have made progress in the past few years using genetic information to answer questions which are not readily addressed by morphological features. We are presently conducting molecular phylogenetic studies involving ctenophores, siphonophores, narcomedusae, doliolids, and pelagic molluscs. The experiments are in different stages of completion, with some in press, some with all but two key species sequenced, and some in the early stages of specimen accumulation. Already, surprising and taxonomically important (i.e. at family-level) discoveries have been made. We will continue this work along the path toward understanding the deep-sea environment.

Most midwater organisms are bioluminescent, and we are also investigating the molecular and chemical basis of bioluminescent and fluorescent proteins. In addition to teaching us a great deal about the evolution of bioluminescence, these molecules have excellent commercial potential. We have identified the top candidates for detailed photoprotein examination, and have made progress in cloning novel luminous photoproteins.  We have also found that some medusae need to obtain critical molecules from their diet or they become non-luminous, and this discovery has given us an excellent model system for use examining the ecology of luminescence.