The deep ocean is home to environmental conditions which are very different from those that humans can tolerate: high pressure, near freezing temperatures, low food, and sometimes low oxygen all provide challenges to cells. We are studying how the proteins and the lipid membranes of deep-living organisms are different from their shallow relatives. Ctenophores (comb jellies) are an excellent model system for doing comparative studies, because different lineages have independently evolved deep and shallow species several times. This lets us look at the properties of closely related species to find what subtle difference make one able to function at high pressure. 

One interesting outcome of our studies is that these “extreme” conditions are perfectly normal to the animals that live there. To them, surface conditions are extreme, and in fact some are so attuned to the deep sea that they can’t survive in shallow waters. These species in particular can educate us about to what extent organisms could adapt to a changing marine environment.


Jacob Winnikoff (alumni), Itay Budin (collaborator)


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