Pierre De Wit
Ph.D. 2010 University of Gothenburg –
In between the grains of sand on the ocean floor, there exists a world which few people are aware of. Representatives of almost all animal phyla can be found here. The clitellate family Enchytraeidae is in the marine interstitial environment represented in large part by species of a genus called Grania, which are long slender worms found in marine sands throughout the world. My Ph.D. thesis was a study on the morphology, taxonomy and systematics of these worms. As part of the thesis, I have described the ultrastructure of the body wall of several species of Grania, described 12 species new to science (of which one is only distinguishable by DNA sequencing), reconstructed the phylogeny (evolutionary tree) of the family Enchytraeidae, and studied the genetic variation within Scandinavian species of Grania. I am also working on methods to combine morphological data with DNA sequences in order to reconstruct phylogenies.
My present research interest lies within the study of genetic variation of marine animals, and the use of high-throughput sequencing to discover patterns that have previously been impossible to detect. Further, transcriptomics (mapping all RNA present in animal cells) combined with high-throughput sequencing allows us to discover changes in gene expression due to environmental stress, such as rising water temperature and ocean acidification.
The current research project aims at applying high-throughput sequencing to discover genetic patterns in Red Abalone (Haliotis rufescens) along the West coast of the United States. By correlating these data with environmental factors, such as upwelling, my hope is that we will be able to study gene expression changes in Abalone due to environmental stressors, including temperature change, declining pH and hypoxia.