The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded 11 new Enabling Discovery through Genomic Tools (EDGE) research grants. EDGE is designed to improve our understanding of how organisms are built by providing funding for the development functional genomic tools. These funds have been awarded to a diversity of organisms, from plants and fungi, to voles and lizards, and not one but two different molluscs, the Hawaiian Bobtail squid, and our own black-footed slipper snail, Crepidula atrasolea.
The Henry lab has been funded to continue to develop the model spiralian, Crepidula atrasolea, as a powerful system for spiralian functional genomics. Spiralian animals (molluscs, annelids, nemerteans, etc.) make up approximately a third of bilaterian animal body plan diversity, and share a highly conserved pattern of early development. However, functional genomic tools are not well developed for these animals, making it difficult to understand how the highly conserved pattern of early development leads to highly diverse spiralian adult bodies. An important step towards developing these tools is being able to grow these animals in the lab, even if the lab is far away from the ocean. This funding will allow our lab to develop an automated aquarium system that will allow us to vastly increase the number of animals that we are able to grow here in Illinois, and provide a foundation for making and supplying the research community with functional genomic tools.
The aquarium system we will develop won’t just be useful for our lab. Many other marine invertebrates are filter feeders, catching food from the water around them. Other molluscs like clams, mussles, and oysters, as well as marine polychaete worms, and even corals, feed in this way. Having the ability to grow and manipulate marine animals in the lab, will be extremely useful for basic research on a variety of marine species. This work is especially important as marine habitats change and are impacted by human activities, including increasing temperatures and ocean acidification.