Cell Signaling and Microbial Interactions in the Marine Environment
Marine photosynthetic microorganisms (phytoplankton) are the basis of marine food webs and are responsible for nearly 50% of the global annual carbon-based primary production. Despite their importance, the molecular basis for their ecological success has been largely unexplored. During bloom succession phytoplankton populations are thought to utilize chemical signals (infochemicals) to enhance their defense capacities against viruses and grazers, and to out-compete other phytoplankton for available resources. Recent advances in algal genomics and genetic and cell biology tools provide an unprecedented opportunity to elucidate the cellular mechanisms that are employed by phytoplankton during acclimation to stress in the marine environment.
In light of their unique evolutionary history, studying members of the three dominant bloom-forming algal taxa in contemporary oceans (diatoms, coccolithophores and dinoflagellates), will provide exciting insights into their unique biology and ecological success. We specifically explore the signal transduction pathways related to the origin of programmed cell death (PCD), cell-cell communication, host-virus interactions and chemical-based defense. As well as examining how these signaling pathways regulate cell fate and developmental changes as resting stage and biofilm formation.
Our recent work provides a mechanism by which cells perceive infochemicals as oxylipins and sphingolipids that derived from biotic interactions of their potential role in structuring marine microbial communities. Phytoplankton cells can utilize these secondary metabolites as part of a sophisticated surveillance system to monitor environmental stress conditions. Furthermore, these unique infochemicals can be used to develop diagnostic biomarkers to quantify biotic interactions in the ocean. Recent focus of our work is given to underline the co-evolution of host and virus around the PCD pathway and the pivotal role of chemical-based “arms race” to mediate and control these evolutionary drivers in the marine environment.
We can also foster that this novel research niche of marine chemical signaling along with recent advances in algal genomics to now provide an unprecedented opportunity for new applications in algal biofuel and isolation of marine natural products with biomedical application.