Aquatic Symbiosis Genomics Project
The Aquatic Symbiosis Genomics Project, jointly funded by the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, seeks to provide the genomic foundations needed by scientists to answer key questions about the ecology and evolution of symbiosis in marine and freshwater species, where at least one partner is a microbe. By applying the latest genomic techniques and tools to 1,000 aquatic species, from 500 symbiotic relationships, the data will guide future studies and help to inform conservation efforts.
Laying the foundations for future conservation
The Aquatic Symbiosis Genomics Project seeks to provide the genomic foundations needed by scientists to answer key questions about the ecology and evolution of symbiosis in marine and freshwater species, where at least one partner is a microbe. By applying the latest genomic techniques and tools to 1,000 aquatic species, representing 500 symbiotic relationships, the data will guide future studies and help to inform conservation efforts.
The key role of symbiosis in ecology, evolution and conservation
Evolution is often characterised as a fight for survival, with individuals pitted against each other in the race to spawn the next generation. However, collaborations – where two distinct organisms build a relationship that is beneficial – are widespread. Every plant carries within it a once free-living, light-harvesting bacterium, and these chloroplasts are what allow plants to use sunlight to fix carbon. The chloroplast-plant collaboration is billions of years old, but new collaborations have evolved many times. For example, corals, a collaboration between sessile jellyfish relatives and free living photosynthetic algae, are the foundations of hyper-diverse reef ecosystems where tens of thousands of species thrive.
These symbioses – sym: together, biosis: living – are key to the functioning of the living world. Symbiosis covers a spectrum of relationships, from temporary to lifelong, and from mutually beneficial – such as between coral and algae – to exploitative – between parasite and host. These relationships are hugely important and have evolved independently many times.
As two once-independent species evolve to collaborate (or be exploiter and exploited) they will adapt to communicate with each other, to exchange nutrients and to accommodate to each other’s physiologies. This evolutionary change is delivered from and written in the genomes of the symbionts.
However, little is known about the underlying genetics of these complex relationships between species, how symbiotic partners adapt to one another over time, how resilient these partnerships are, and how they respond to disruption. The aim of the Aquatic Symbiosis Genomics Project is to provide high-quality reference genomes for each of the two or more organisms involved in 500 symbioses. These genomes will allow us, with our research partners, to understand the basis of their cooperation and resilience to change.