Aiptasia as a Model System
We use the marine sea anemone Aiptasia as a model for coral symbiosis. Aiptasia lives in a stable, mutualistic symbiosis with the same types of dinoflagellates (genus Symbiodinium) as corals; however, in contrast to corals, Aiptasia can be easily kept as asexually reproducing, clonal lines under laboratory conditions. Likewise, sexual reproduction can be induced, allowing unlimited access to non-symbiotic larvae that readily take up symbionts from the environment.
Aiptasia life cycle
We predominantly use Aiptasia larvae as a platform for studying the molecular mechanisms of host-symbiont interaction. We have analyzed embryonic and larval development in relation to symbiont phagocytosis, and completed the first comparison of symbiosis specificity between Aiptasia and corals using multiple, cultured Symbiodinum strains. The Aiptasia genome has recently been sequenced and we identified a first set of candidate genes involved in symbiosis establishment by RNA-Seq. We have developed molecular tools such as in situ hybridization, confocal microscopy and protein extraction, and are currently establishing functional approaches including genome engineering and single-cell transcriptomics to further extend our toolbox.
We complement our Aiptasia experiments with state-of-the-art cell biology approaches, biochemistry, metabolomics and chemical engineering. We use phylogenetics and in silico approaches for our evolutionary analysis and regularly perform comparative coral-reef fieldwork at Sesoko Marine Station in Okinawa, Japan.
Fieldwork in Okinawa
Sesoko Marine Station
Corals in water table