Capacity to regenerate varies among animals, with “simple” animals, such as sponges, cnidarians and planarians often having higher regenerative capacity than the more complex ones, including insects and mammals. Studies using cnidarian model species (especially the freshwater polyp Hydra and recently the sea anemone Nematostella) identified a suite of molecular and cellular mechanisms of regeneration, some of which are conserved across the animal kingdom. In addition to being excellent lab models, many cnidarian species have critical ecosystem building roles of global significance.
Reef corals are dramatically affected by climate change resulting in bleaching events, and are therefore major subject of conservation and restoration efforts. Perhaps surprisingly, no data on cellular and molecular background of regeneration in corals has been published so far. This project will be carried in collaboration between the Adamska (ANU) and Ainsworth (JCU) labs, both within the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE). Acropora aspera (green staghorn coral) will be used as the main model species, with a range of other cnidarians and sponges used for comparative analyses.
The project will involve transcriptome sequencing and assembly, detailed histological investigations of the regeneration process including cell death and proliferation assays, and detection of transcripts differentially expressed during the regeneration process to identify cells and genes involved in coral regeneration. Impact of low pH and increased water temperature on the regeneration process will also be investigated.