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BGI, US Team Launches Symbiont Genome Project

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Researchers from BGI, the University of South Florida, and the University of Maryland plan to collaborate on a symbiont genome project as part of BGI's 1,000 Plant and Animal Reference Genomes Project, BGI announced today.

The team will sequence the genomes of the sea slug, Elysia chlorotica, and its algal food source, Vaucheria litorea. By sequencing and comparing the genomes, they hope to gain insights into evolution, developmental biology, and more.

Sea slugs get their energy by using algal chloroplasts to do photosynthesis. The slugs maintain these chloroplasts through a functional biosynthetic pathway transferred from the algae to their own genomes.

Although a handful of algal genes have already been found in the sea slug, those involved in the new project say that by comparing the sea slug and algal genomes, they should be able to get a better idea of how many algal gene fragments are found in sea slugs and the size of these fragments. The team also hopes to learn how gene transfer occurs between the species and get a better sense of what genes are needed for functional chloroplasts.

Sequencing and bioinformatics for the project will reportedly be done at BGI. University of South Florida integrative biology researcher Sidney Pierce and University of Maryland at College Park cell biology and molecular genetics researcher Charles Delwiche are leading the US arm of the team, which will help integrate this sequencing data with other types of research based on their knowledge of genomics, phylogenetics, and gene transfer.

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