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Trojan Horses in the Marine Realm: Protist Parasite-host Dynamics in Coastal Waters


<p>The ecological importance of parasitic dinoflagellates has been recognized for some time, particularly during epidemic outbreaks that cause mass mortality of their hosts, damage to aquaculture, and render commercially valuable Crustacea unpalatable. The dominate parasitic dinoflagellate group found in international global ocean surveys is referred to as MALV II Syndiniales. In the planktonic environment, the MALV II Syndiniales group not only exerts top-down controls on their prey populations, but based on their apparent ubiquity and abundance, they likely shape the pools of nutrients in marine water columns. Data on cultured samples reveals this hyper-diverse group can infect a wide range of protist hosts, as well as copepods, and fish larvae. Gaps in knowledge of the specificity and dynamics of the host-parasite interactions contribute to difficulties in estimating the impacts on the coastal ecosystems. In this project, researchers combine novel methods in microscopy, genomics, and chemistry to track host-parasite dynamics at a coastal site over an annual cycle followed by modeling to assess the impacts on microbial ecosystem dynamics. The researchers will engage undergraduate and high school students in field and laboratory research activities. In addition, support for a graduate student is included along with plans to disseminate the research results more broadly through publications and presentations.<br />
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Syndiniales parasitism is a widespread, albeit under-studied symbiotic interaction in the marine environment and little is known about regulation of protist populations by these parasites. In spite of their cosmopolitan distribution in the global ocean and their apparent abundance in molecular datasets of protist marker genes, little is known about the ecology of these parasites and almost no genomic data exists for them. In this project, the researchers combine high-resolution sampling, water chemistry (including nutrients) analyses, molecular marker gene analyses, fluorescence in situ hybridization, single cell genomics, and modeling to produce the first focused assessment of host-MALVII parasite dynamics and ecology at the community level in a coastal marine ecosystem. The researchers will evaluate temporal dynamics of host and parasite diversity and will examine temporal variation in levels of infection of the protist community and host-parasite specificity using high-resolution sampling in Salt Pond, Falmouth, MA, and in situ hybridization microscopy. Molecular approaches include amplicon tag high throughput sequencing, leveraging the emerging third generation sequencing technology, Oxford Nanopore's MinION to elucidate host-parasite identities. The researchers will also apply advances in single-cell genome sequencing to inform on strain-specific genome content, including the molecular mechanisms underpinning protist parasitism. Contributions to pools of particulate and dissolved organic matter will be estimated for several of the most commonly infected host taxa in Salt Pond using laboratory experiments, providing the first set of values for modeling impacts of Syndiniales parasitism on pools of organic and inorganic nutrients.<br />
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This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.</p>

Rebecca Gast; Virginia Edgcomb; Maria Pachiadaki
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
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