Population Genomics of Sea Stars

Award Month: 
January - February 2014

We study the evolution of sex in the ocean. We use sea stars as a model system for analyzing population genetic variation and how that variation is shaped over evolutionary time by differences among species in mate selection and gene flow. New methods in this work use high-throughput sequencing methods to discover new genes expressed on sea star sperm and egg surfaces, and to analyze the pattern of molecular evolution of those genes compared to other parts of the genome. We use the IRMACS Centre's computational and bioinformatics resources in those analyses. The group uses molecular genetic methods and data in evolutionary biology. The specific research area is the analysis of population genetic variation, and comparative studies of population genetics among species that differ in demographic variables such as mate choice, population size, and gene flow.

One project I am pursuing now uses multiple ovary and testis transcriptomes to analyze both selectively neutral and adaptive molecular evolution in the context of a recently discovered zone of incipient speciation between northern and southern populations of a British Columbia sea star. The transcriptome data sets use the Illumina HiSeq platform, which generates hundreds of millions of short DNA sequence reads. A major bottleneck in my analysis of this project is the efficient processing and analysis of the sequence data and comparisons of the transcriptomes among different individual sea stars from northern and southern populations. The access to IRMACS computational resources provide resources for running Galaxy bioinformatics analyses via IRMACS's Compute Canada cluster resource allocation.

About Project Leader: Dr. Michael Hart

Dr. Michael Hart completed his B.Sc. in Zoology at the University of Alberta and his M.Sc. in Biology at Dalhousie University. He completed his Ph.D. in Zoology at the University of Washington. Dr. Hart is a Professor at the Department of Biological Sciences, at Simon Fraser.  He is a member in two research groups the Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology Research Group and the Organic Evolution Group. A segment of Dr. Hart's research made the Discovery News list of 10 Sexiest Stories of 2013: http://news.discovery.com/human/10-sexiest-stories-2013-131230.htm