2015 Beckman Symposium   

Tyler Heist

Presentation Date:

Tyler Heist

Investigating intracellular symbiont dynamics in sponge:Symbiodinium relationships

Universtiy of Richmond


Clionaid sponges impact the ecology of their coral reef habitats, and many of these sponges harbor endosymbiotic algae called Symbiodinium. The association with Symbiodinium is hypothesized to be a major source of the sponge's necessary nutrients, thus greatly impacting its role on the reef. However, the dynamics of the symbiotic associations between the algae and their hosts are poorly understood. Therefore, the aim of this project has been to better characterize this relationship through molecular, computational, and theoretical approaches. Using transcriptomic data from three distinct symbiotic states of Cliona varians ("normal", "aposymbiotic", and "reinfected"), we characterized genetic pathways that were differentially expressed during the uptake and establishment of Symbiodinium. Additionally, we have developed an agent-based model that examines the specificity and aspects of establshment and maintenance of this endosymbiosis. This work has direct implications in better understanding human disease caused by intracellular pathogens (e.g., malaria) as well as ecosytem health on coral reefs.

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