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.