Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Researchers sequence seagrass genome, unlocking valuable resource

23.02.2016

UD scientist part of international team that published first fully sequenced Zostera marina

The University of Delaware's Pamela Green is part of an international consortium of researchers from 35 laboratories that have published the genome of the seagrass Zostera marina. It is believed to be the first marine angiosperm to be fully sequenced.


This is a meadow in Archipelago Sea, Finland.

Credit: C. Boström

The study, titled "The Genome of the Seagrass Zostera marina Reveals Angiosperm Adaptation to the Sea," was published in the scientific journal Nature and is featured on the cover of the print edition.

Seagrasses evolved from marine algae, the ancestors of land plants, and are the only flowering plants to have returned to the sea. In the marine environment, they provide a habitat and nursery ground for young fish and other marine organisms. Like their terrestrial counterparts, seagrasses are comprised of leaves, root systems, conductive tissue, flowers and seeds.

Seagrass meadows are part of soft-sediment, coastal ecosystems of all continents except Antarctica. They serve an important role in protecting the coastline from erosion and maintaining water clarity, while acting as a carbon sink by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Yet, seagrass meadows are threatened worldwide, and to date, many initiatives to restore degraded seagrass meadows have had limited success.

According to the researchers, a fully sequenced Z. marina genome is a valuable resource that can markedly advance and support a wide range of research, from work aimed at understanding the adaptation of marine ecosystems under climate warming and its role in carbon sequestration to unraveling the mechanisms of salt tolerance that may further inform assisted breeding of crop plants.

Green's contribution to the study involved investigating microRNAs (miRNAs) of Z. marina, in collaboration with Emanuele De Paoli, an assistant professor of genetics at University of Udine (Italy) and former postdoctoral researcher at UD.

MicroRNAs are a class of regulatory RNAs, molecules found in virtually all plants and animals that regulate gene expression and serve functions in numerous cellular pathways.

Although miRNAs can be studied by deeply sequencing the small RNAs themselves, as De Paoli, Green and collaborators had already done, a genome sequence provides an extremely valuable advantage, according to Green.

The Z. marina genome made it easier to distinguish bona fide miRNAs from other classes of small RNAs because it allowed for identification and characterization of miRNA-encoding genes, both those that were expected and those previously unknown. This new analysis clearly demonstrated that Z. marina lacks several miRNA genes that arose in related terrestrial species.

In contrast, it retained the oldest known miRNA specific to the important group of monocot plants to which Z. marina and several crop species, such as cereals, belong.

"Zostera marina or its direct ancestors appeared in evolution right after the entire monocot branch originated. Inspecting its genome can reveal genetic features, like the birth of a miRNA gene, which arose approximately around that important period of evolution and could have played a crucial role in determining biological innovation. We have identified one such event and it is very rewarding," said De Paoli, who is an expert in the computational analysis of miRNA genes, epigenetics, genome structure and evolution using next generation sequencing data.

"This study also opened new doors for future study by identifying the target genes which miRNAs could regulate. The hints are that some Z. marina miRNA-target associations could reveal novel regulatory mechanisms involved in development and other fundamental processes," said Green, the Unidel Crawford H. Greenewalt Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences.

Green is also a member of the faculty in the School of Marine Science and Policy in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment at UD, and holds joint appointments in the departments of Biological Sciences and Chemistry and Biochemistry.

"It was wonderful to participate in this consortium which gleaned many exciting insights from the first marine flowering plant to have its genome sequenced," she said.

Research in Green's laboratory at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute (DBI) focuses on post-transcriptional mechanisms that regulate the expression of genes in plants, marine organisms and human cells. She is particularly interested in the fate of mRNA molecules, which play a pivotal role in the gene expression process.

Zostera marina, also called eelgrass, is the most widely distributed seagrass throughout the northern hemisphere of the Pacific and Atlantic, ranging from the warm waters of southern Portugal to the frigid temperatures of northern Norway.

Eelgrass has adapted to the salty conditions of seawater, making it a useful vehicle for studying the relationship between the complex gene networks affecting temperature and salt tolerance.

The consortium researchers, led by Jeanine Olsen of the University of Groningen (Netherlands), first set out to produce and annotate a high quality genome sequence in order to better understand the genetic networks and the interaction of ecology and evolution in these plants.

What they learned was that in its evolution from a terrestrial to marine plant -- its "return to the sea" -- eelgrass made a host of unique adaptations.

For example, eelgrass no longer has stomata, microscopic pores that land plants use to breath, or any of the genes involved in development of the specialized cells of these structures. This means that Z. marina is bound to the sea.

Additionally, the cell walls of eelgrass no longer resemble normal plant cell walls, rather, they are more like that of seaweeds or algae.

Plant signaling and defense are also different. Genes in land plants that produce volatile compounds have also disappeared from the Z. marina genome. Pollination of the seagrass flower occurs entirely underwater, where there are no insects to help. As for predators, however, there are still plenty of small grazers that scrape algae off the leaves.

An overarching question for the international research team is how fast eelgrass can adapt to rapid climate change. The fact that Z. marina grows along the coastline from Portugal to Scandinavia is being used as a natural experiment to investigate adaptation to warmer or colder water, as well as to salinity, ocean acidification and light.

Additionally, learning more about eco-evolutionary interactions is relevant to the development of genomics-based, early-warning indicators that may foreshadow seagrass ecosystem shifts and tipping points, the researchers said.

Media Contact

Peter Bothum
pbothum@udel.edu
302-831-1418

 @UDResearch

http://www.udel.edu 

Peter Bothum | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: Seagrass Zostera marina eelgrass genes genome sequence miRNA salt tolerance small RNAs

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht New insight into glaciers regulating global silicon cycling
14.08.2019 | University of Bristol

nachricht Coastal marine sediments contribute to the formation of greenhouse gases
31.07.2019 | Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A miniature stretchable pump for the next generation of soft robots

Soft robots have a distinct advantage over their rigid forebears: they can adapt to complex environments, handle fragile objects and interact safely with humans. Made from silicone, rubber or other stretchable polymers, they are ideal for use in rehabilitation exoskeletons and robotic clothing. Soft bio-inspired robots could one day be deployed to explore remote or dangerous environments.

Most soft robots are actuated by rigid, noisy pumps that push fluids into the machines' moving parts. Because they are connected to these bulky pumps by tubes,...

Im Focus: Vehicle Emissions: New sensor technology to improve air quality in cities

Researchers at TU Graz are working together with European partners on new possibilities of measuring vehicle emissions.

Today, air pollution is one of the biggest challenges facing European cities. As part of the Horizon 2020 research project CARES (City Air Remote Emission...

Im Focus: Self healing robots that "feel pain"

Over the next three years, researchers from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, University of Cambridge, École Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles de la ville de Paris (ESPCI-Paris) and Empa will be working together with the Dutch Polymer manufacturer SupraPolix on the next generation of robots: (soft) robots that ‘feel pain’ and heal themselves. The partners can count on 3 million Euro in support from the European Commission.

Soon robots will not only be found in factories and laboratories, but will be assisting us in our immediate environment. They will help us in the household, to...

Im Focus: Scientists create the world's thinnest gold

Scientists at the University of Leeds have created a new form of gold which is just two atoms thick - the thinnest unsupported gold ever created.

The researchers measured the thickness of the gold to be 0.47 nanometres - that is one million times thinner than a human finger nail. The material is regarded...

Im Focus: Study on attosecond timescale casts new light on electron dynamics in transition metals

An international team of scientists involving the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) in Hamburg has unraveled the light-induced electron-localization dynamics in transition metals at the attosecond timescale. The team investigated for the first time the many-body electron dynamics in transition metals before thermalization sets in. Their work has now appeared in Nature Physics.

The researchers from ETH Zurich (Switzerland), the MPSD (Germany), the Center for Computational Sciences of University of Tsukuba (Japan) and the Center for...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

The power of thought – the key to success: CYBATHLON BCI Series 2019

16.08.2019 | Event News

4th Hybrid Materials and Structures 2020 28 - 29 April 2020, Karlsruhe, Germany

14.08.2019 | Event News

What will the digital city of the future look like? City Science Summit on 1st and 2nd October 2019 in Hamburg

12.08.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Graphene nanoflakes: a new tool for precision medicine

19.08.2019 | Health and Medicine

Working out why plants get sick

16.08.2019 | Life Sciences

Newfound superconductor material could be the 'silicon of quantum computers'

16.08.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>