You are what you eat: The Role of Kleptoplasty in an Antarctic Dinoflagellate
Kleptoplasty, the temporary acquisition and use of functional chloroplasts derived from algal prey, is viewed as an important model for the early evolution of the permanent, endosymbiotically-derived chloroplasts found in all permanently photosynthetic eukaryotes. This project will study the evolutionary history and expression of plastid-targeted genes in an abundant Antarctic dinoflagellate that steals chloroplasts from an ecologically important alga, the haptophyte Phaeocystis. Algae play an important role in the fixation and export of CO2 in the Southern Ocean, and this project will explore the genetic basis for the function of these chimeric cells with regard to their functional adaptation to extreme environments and will study the evolutionary history and expression of plastid-targeted genes in both the host and recipient. The project seeks to determine whether the kleptoplastidic dinoflagellate utilizes ancestral plastid proteins to regulate its stolen plastid, and how their transcription is related to environmental factors that are relevant to the Southern Ocean environment (temperature and light). To accomplish these goals, the project will utilize high throughput transcriptome analysis and RNA-sequencing experiments with the dinoflagellate and Phaeocystis.
This work will help biologists understand the environmental success of this alternative nutritional strategy, and to assess the potential impact of anthropogenic climate change on the organism. The project will also contribute to the maintenance of a culture collection of heterotrophic, phototrophic and mixotrophic Antarctic protists that are available to the scientific community, and it will support the mentoring of a graduate student and a postdoctoral fellow. The work is being accomplished as an international collaboration between US and Canadian scientists, and in addition to publishing results in peer-reviewed journals, the investigators will incorporate aspects of this work into public outreach activities. These include field data analysis opportunities for middle school students and science-based art projects with local schools and museums.
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