What is genomics?
Genomics is the field of study that relates to the sequencing, assembling and analysis of the function, structure and mapping of genomes (the complete set of DNA within a single cell of an organism).
Genome sequencing has been mainstreamed by medical science, however the complexity of coral reefs provides some interesting challenges.
Corals and their zooxanthellae (the organisms that give them life) and microbes are highly integrated. This provides a unique technical challenge when trying to pull them apart for analysis. ReFuGe 2020 researchers have developed brand new, highly efficient methods to extract the zooxanthellae and microbes from coral tissue.
However, the most effective method for obtaining ‘clean’ coral DNA relies on using coral sperm. Corals produce very large amounts of sperm, however they do so only once a year at coral spawning. Spawning occurs at night over a 4 day period, making it a hectic and sleepless couple of days (and nights) in the lab.
- The first human genome sequence was released in 2003 (the Human Genome Project), a 13 year, USD$3 billion undertaking. Today, an entire human genome can be sequenced in days for less than $5,000.
- The first coral genome from the Great Barrier Reef, a branching coral (Acropora millipora) from Magnetic Island, was sequenced in 2011, led by researchers from James Cook University.
- Prior to the Sea-quence project, only 2 corals (Acropora millipora and Acropora digitifera) had been sequenced globally.
- Most coral genomes that have been sequenced by the consortium to-date contain as many or more genes than the human genome.
- There are more than 550 species of corals (hard and soft) on the Great Barrier Reef alone.
- It is possible for exactly the same coral species to live at both the northern and southern tips of the Great Barrier Reef – in waters that are on average 2 degrees different in temperature. Both will bleach if temperature varies from average.