Dr. Jason Macrander, assistant professor of marine biology at Florida Southern College, is a collaborator and co-author of an ongoing research study that is helping scientists to gain important new insights about certain DNA molecules that are stored within individual cells.
This collaborative study, which involves multiple institutions, is led by Dr. Sergio Stampar, a Brazilian researcher who works at São Paulo State University. Through Dr. Macrander’s participation in the study, he has been involved in collecting scientific data and providing help in its analysis.
The research team’s work has focused on genetic information known as a mitochondrial genome (or mitogenome), which is contained within a chromosome structure that exists outside the cell’s nucleus. As a result of the study, researchers discovered the largest known mitogenome, which belongs to a tube anemone (Ceriantharia), a marine invertebrate closely related to corals and jellyfish.
Mitogenomes are smaller and contain less information than nuclear genomes, and are the likely remnant of an ancestral symbiotic association between two unicellular organisms that took place about a billion years ago. Mitochondria, widely known as the “powerhouses” of cells, are membrane-bound organelles responsible for giving energy to carry out cellular processes.
The research study sequenced and annotated the mitogenome of two cerianthid species, the largest of which had 80,923 base pairs (bp). For comparison, a human mitogenome has less than 17,000 bp. Findings of the team’s research were published in Scientific Reports in April 2019.
“We worked really well together as a team,” said Dr. Macrander, “and we kept coming to the same conclusion, that not only was the mitochondrial genome made of several linear pieces, but it was huge!” The research team also has been making advances in understanding how mitochondrial DNA has evolved.
Last fall, Dr. Stampar gave a guest lecture about cerianthids to students in Dr. Macrander’s “Introduction to Marine Biology” class at FSC. Immediately after Dr. Stampar’s lecture, both he and Dr. Macrander traveled to the Cnidofest 2018, an international research conference in St. Augustine, where they presented their ongoing research from their respective labs. Currently, Dr. Stampar and Dr. Macrander are exploring the diverse components of cerianthid venom, and studying how cerianthids compare to other aquatic invertebrate animals known as cnidarians, which use specialized cnidocyte cells to capture prey.
“Collaborative efforts such as these will continue to provide insight into how this unique group of marine invertebrates have evolved and interacted with their environment,” Dr. Macrander said. He plans to maintain his involvement in this collaborative research effort, potentially organizing an FSC Junior Journey to Brazil to study these and other exciting marine organisms.