Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
 2005 projects
Midwater research

Bioluminescence and zooplankton

Project Manager and Lead Scientist: Steve Haddock

Our studies on gelatinous zooplankton have two general foci: 

  1. Bioluminescent and fluorescent properties
  2. Identification, phylogeny, and ecology.

To produce bioluminescence, ctenophores, cnidarians, and radiolarians all rely on calcium activated photoproteins. We seek to clone and characterize these ecologically and technologically important proteins and to determine their properties, including the structural and amino-acid differences underlying the spectral variability that we have discovered in deep-sea species. Research on the origins of coelenterazine (the luminous substrate for all these organisms) will continue, with the ultimate goal of determining the evolution of these luminescent systems. Fluorescent proteins (FPs) have been found in a variety of Cnidarians, but their functions remain unknown. Our recent discoveries of novel FPs in other taxa, suggest specific important roles which are relevant even in the deep sea.

Examining the genetic relationships between organisms is necessary for studies of the ecology and phylogeny of major invertebrate groups. Accurate assessment of biodiversity provides a baseline for understanding changes (especially in the deep sea) due to anthropogenic and climatological pressure. The deep sea is by far the largest habitat on earth, yet the diversity of the jellies, the community's dominant predators, has never been quantified. Phylogenetic studies also give us a deeper understanding of the evolutionary origins of invertebrates, provide a context for our studies of proteins, and clarify relationships at the roots of the tree of life.

Last updated: Feb. 05, 2009