Long-term Sabbatical

New dimensions of synthesis: from single animal observation to planetory genomics in Placozoa

PI(s): Bernd Schierwater (TiHo Hannover)
Start Date: 15-Jul-2013
End Date: 15-Apr-2014
Keywords: adaptive radiation, biodiversity, systematics, population genetics, evolutionary genetics

I seek funding for a full academic year sabbatical at NESCent to work on a comprehensive joint research program to unravel the diversity and evolution of the phylum Placozoa using synthetic research approaches at a grand scale, integrating organismal data, next-generation sequencing (NGS) and computational biology. Placozoans are a unique model system to unravel the genetics underlying adaptation to marine habitats and rapidly changing environments. Although the phylum is yet monophyletic with the single species, Trichoplax adhaerens, we know from different data sets that the Placozoa harbor dozens of species and deep taxonomic units. The integration of a broad spectrum of organismal and genetic data promises novel insights into the evolution of a marine invertebrate model system at an unchallenged depth. Together with collaborators I seek to (1) integrate existing morphological, developmental, physiological, ecological and genetic data to define new species and higher taxonomic units; (2) increase our knowledge on the genetics of placozoans by developing high-throughput molecular techniques for whole mitochondrial genome sequencing (WMGS) as well as whole genome sequencing (WGS) of selected genomes from single (!) animals; and (3) develop computational algorithms to detect evidence of traits under selection and determine the population structure and biogeography of placozoan species around the world. Subsequently, I wish to relate (and eventually model) the interplay of specific genetic, developmental and physiological variation to environmental adaptation to marine habitats and predict effects of global warming on placozoan diversity.