I am a PhD candidate and evolutionary genomicist at Oregon State University, using genomic and experimental approaches to investigate laboratory and natural populations of Aiptasia sea anemones. Like its reef-building coral relatives, this small brown anemone depends on close, mutualistic relationships with unicellular microalgae of the genus Symbiodinium. The tiny algae live inside cells of the host, providing compounds derived from algal photosynthesis in exchange for nutrients and protection from herbivory. Elevated ocean temperatures trigger ‘bleaching’ (loss of the algal symbionts), causing coral mortality and severe reef degradation.
Unlike most corals, Aiptasia is easy to study and maintain in the laboratory, rendering it an important model for studying coral bleaching and symbiosis. By better understanding genome variation and evolution in Aiptasia, a tractable model system for coral biology, I hope we can better predict responses of marine symbioses to changing oceans.