Marine Genomics

Marine Genomics

Details

Coral reefs are complex and dynamic systems that are geologically robust and have persisted through major climactic shifts, yet they are highly sensitive to environmental perturbations on ecological timescales. The Earth’s climate is changing rapidly mostly due to anthropogenic disturbances. The average temperature of the ocean is projected to increase at least 3°C by the end of the century, and there is a progressive oceans acidification (cecrising pH) due to increasing atmospheric CO2, with potentially serious effects on the structure and function of coral reef systems. It is unclear if and how reef species, such as tropical fishes, will adapt to these rapid changes in ocean temperature. In particular, tropical species may be more vulnerable to rising temperatures and decrising pH than species from cooler climates, because they are already living close to their thermal limits. Transgenerational acclimation is a form of non-genetic inheritance in which the environmental conditions experienced by one-generation influences the performance of future generations in that environment. New studies show that the performance of juvenile fish at higher water temperatures is significantly improved when their parents also experienced the warmer temperature. The molecular mechanisms responsible for transgenerational thermal acclimation, and how it is controlled, are currently unknown. Genomic DNA methylation is a form of epigenetic inheritance that cells use to control gene expression, and recent evidence suggests that genome methylation can be driven by external signals in cells after birth as well as in adult cells. This raises the intriguing possibility that DNA methylation can serve as a mechanism for genomes to rapidly adapt to changing environments. Here we propose a unique multi-generational manipulative experiment for a common coral reef fish, Acanthochromis polyacanthus, with genome-wide measurements of gene expression and DNA methylation. Using an integrative analysis, we seek to identify molecular pathways responsible for transgenerational acclimation to rising ocean temperatures and to test the hypothesis that genomic DNA methylation serves as a central mechanism mediating transgenerational acclimation to climate change.

We strongly believe that only multi-component meta-data analyses that rigorously integrate data and apply mathematical modeling promises to obtain a holoistic understanding of biological processes. We apply a genomics approach that employs multi-angle interdisciplinary approaches to understand how reef animals adapt under different naturally changing or stressed conditions in the Red Sea.