Bioluminescence and molecular biology of Zooplankton
Project Manager/Lead Scientist: Steve Haddock
Our studies on gelatinous zooplankton have two general foci, described below: (1) identification, phylogeny, and ecology, and (2) bioluminescent and fluorescent properties.
Describing new species is necessary for studies of the ecology and phylogeny of major invertebrate groups. It gives a baseline for understanding changes which the ocean (and especially the deep sea) is undergoing; and not the least, it fascinates the public and encourages interest in deep-sea research.
Phylogenetic studies give us a deeper understanding of the evolutionary origins of invertebrates, and clarify relationships on the tree of life. In the midwater, where invertebrate groups are exceedingly diverse, there is underrepresentation of jellies in studies of diversity and phylogeny. Basic questions are only now being answered through more extensive sampling of gelatinous animals. Natural history of these animals is completely obscured when specimens are collected by nets. Thus ROV and scuba observations are critical to advancing our understanding of the ecology of jellies in the ocean.
Fluorescent proteins (FPs) have been found in a variety of Cnidarians, but their functions remain unknown. We are seeking answers to their molecular origins by extending the search into the deep sea.
Bioluminescence in ctenophores, cnidarians, and radiolarians all rely on calcium-activated photoproteins. We are attempting to extend our past research on the origins of coelenterazine (the luminous substrate for all these organisms) with the ultimate goal of determining the evolution of these luminescent systems.