1. Comparative genomics to unravel the metazoan “genetic starter kit”
Our goal is to elucidate the evolutionary history of genes that are key for animal development and multicellularity. To this aim, we are part of the UNICORN (UNICellular Opisthokonts Research iNitiative) initiative: an international and multi-taxon genome project recently funded by NHGRI (National Institute for Human Genome Research), which aims to gain insights into how multicellularity first evolved in both animals and fungi. UNICORN, through the Broad Institute, will obtain the genome sequence from several of the closest unicellular relatives of both animals and fungi (see Multicellularity Project at Broad). The idea is to perform comparative genomic analyses to unravel the genome structure and gene composition of the last common unicellular ancestor that gave rise to Metazoa.
We have recently shown that the filasterean amoeboid Capsaspora owczarzaki, a close unicellular relative of Metazoa, expresses several genes that are required to metazoan development, such as protein tyrosine kinases, integrins and several transcription factors (i.e, T-box genes).
2. Unraveling the ancestral function of genes relevant to animal multicellularity
The aim is to unravel the ancestral function of the cell-signaling and cell-adhesion genes that are crucial for animal development. By comparative genomic analyses we have identified some homologs of genes relevant to animal multicellularity and developmennt (e.g. integrins, receptor tyrosine kinases, T-box genes) in Capsaspora. We want to know what roles are those genes playing in the unicellular Capsaspora and how these genes were later on co-opted to the new functions in metazoans. By elucidating the “ancestral function” of those genes, we will provide significant insights into the role that cell-signaling and cell-adhesion genes played in the origin of Metazoa.
To make this happen we are currently working in developing transgenesis protocols in the filasterean Capsaspora owczarzaki and the ichthyosporean Creolimax fragrantissima.
3. Phylogenomics; unraveling the phylogenetic relationships of opisthokonts and eukaryotes
If we want to approach the evolution of multicellular animals, we need a robust phylogenetic framework of the opisthokonts (i.e., the clade that comprises Metazoa, Fungi and their closes unicellular lineages). Thus, among our goals is to obtain new molecular data in order to perform phylogenetic and phylogenomic analyses to further improve the opisthokont (or the eukaryote) tree of life. For example, using single-copy protein domains rather than genes, we have recently shown that apusozoans (and not the amoebozoans) are the sister-group to the opisthokonts and that the ichthyosporeans are the sister-group to a clade formed by filastereans, choanoflagellates and metazoans.
4. Biodiversity and Molecular Ecology of Opisthokonts
The real diversity of opisthokonts remain unknown since most protists have never been cultured. Thus, if we want to understand the real biodiversity of opisthokonts we need to analyze uncultured organisms. To this end, we are analyzing molecular data from environmental samplings to have a better idea of the real diversity of the different opisthokont lineages. If possible, we will try to isolate and culture novel protists that may eventually illuminate our understanding on the protist diversity among unicellular relatives of Metazoa and Fungi.
Alex de Mendoza
Andrew J. Roger (Dalhousie University, Canada)
Nicole King (UC Berkeley, USA)
Franz Lang (Université Montreal, Canada)
Kamran Shalchian-Tabrizi (University of Oslo, Norway)
Maja Adamska (SARS, Norway)
José Luis Gómez-Skarmeta (CABD, Sevilla)
Cathrine Sumathi (National Institute of Oceanography, Dona Paula, Goa, India)
Stuart Donachie (University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA)
Duojia Pan (The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, USA)
Todd Miller (Stony Brook University, USA)
David Posada (Universidad de Vigo)
Ariadna Sitjà-Bobadilla (Instituto de Acuicultura de Torre de la Sal, Castellón)
Phil Donoghue, University of Bristol, UK.
Ariadna Sitjà-Bobadilla, Instituto de Acuicultura de Torre de la Sal, Castellón, Spain.
Gonzalo Giribet, Harvard, USA.
Crisanto Gutierrez, Centro de Biología Molecular "Severo Ochoa”, Spain.
Kevin J. Perterson, Darmouth College, USA.
Colomban de Vargas, Station Biologique de Roscoff, France.
Tom Richards, University of Exeter, UK.
Fernando Rodríguez Pascual, Centro de Biología Molecular “Severo Ochoa”, Spain.