Research Initiation Award: Understanding the diversity and evolution of flattended amoebas within "Discosea" using phylogenomics and cytoskeletal architecture
Research Initiation Awards provide support for junior and mid-career faculty at Historically Black Colleges and Universities who are building new research programs or redirecting and rebuilding existing research programs. It is expected that the award helps to further the faculty member's research capability and effectiveness, improves research and teaching at his home institution, and involves undergraduate students in research experiences. The award to Spelman College has potential broader impact in a number of areas. Members of the supergroup Amoebozoa, which are to be studied in this project, are among the most abundant microorganisms globally. They play a major role in maintaining ecosystems and cause significant health problems for humans. Yet, their diversity and taxonomy are poorly known, which hinders applications in ecological and medical studies.
This project will also enhance the research experience and training of undergraduate students a Spelman College.
Most microbial amoeboid lineages fall within two major eukaryotic clades: Amoebozoa and Rhizaria. This project focuses on the relationships among the lineages of Amoebozoa, which are poorly resolved. This is mainly due to paucity and plasticity of morphological characters and limited sampling of genetic data. The project seeks to understand the evolution of one of the subgroups of Amoebozoa, Discosea, using large genetic data and refined analyses of pseudopodia architecture employing a novel method. Discosea encompasses flattened naked amoebas with the most diverse morphotypes. The Discosea is loosely defined by morphological data and has never been recovered in any molecular phylogenetic studies. Both increased genetic data and proteome level pseudopodial characters will allow reconstruction of a robust phylogeny and thorough morphological homology assessment within the group. Specific objectives of this project are to generate transcriptomes from eight core representatives of Discosea; obtain novel morphological data on cytoskeletal structures using immunocytochemistry and confocal fluorescence microscopy; and test specific phylogenetic hypotheses within the Discosea using large genetic data and morphological characters. Beyond the Discosea phylogeny, the generated genetic data and novel morphological characters will help to give cellular biological insights into specialized cells such as cancer, immune and embryonic cells.