In search of the genes that support life in extreme environments, researchers at The Genome Institute are participating in a collaborative grant awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to sequence the genome of the Atlantic killifish, Fundulus heteroclitus, a species known to have evolved extremely high tolerance to dangerous pollutants.
The collaboration includes Wes Warren, Assistant Director of Genomics at The Genome Institute, Louisiana State University Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Andrew Whitehead, Joe Shaw and John Colbourne from Indiana University, Douglas Crawford and Marjorie Oleksiak of the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, and Mark Hahn from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in partnership with the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory.
The Atlantic killifish has a rich history as a useful model for research on how organisms respond to changes in the environment. Certain populations of this fish have rapidly and repeatedly evolved extreme tolerance to the chemicals that pollute some of the estuaries along the Atlantic coast. The answer to how these fish survive and thrive in such stressful and normally lethal environments has so far been elusive.
This new research aims to sequence the entire genome of the Atlantic killifish to provide a reference that can then be compared to the sequences generated from multiple other populations. This work will help guide the discovery of the genes and genetic changes that facilitate the dramatic evolution of pollution tolerance observed among the various populations of Atlantic killifish.
A complete genome sequence for the Atlantic killifish - with its many beneficial physiological and ecological characteristics - will also provide a critical research resource for the broader scientific community. Studying the genome of this fish promises to accelerate and advance our understanding of the wider genetic and historical determinants of health and disease within a changing environment for both wild species and humans.