Elucidating the Mechanisms of Bacteria-Stimulated Animal Metamorphosis
A currently enigmatic symbiosis in the ocean is the stimulation of animal metamorphosis by bacteria; a phenomenon that seeds new animals to establish or maintain benthic ecosystems. During these host-microbe interactions, the swimming larvae of animals such as corals and tubeworms identify a desirable location on the seafloor to undergo metamorphosis based on the presence of specific surface-bound bacteria. In this talk, I will present our discovery that bacteria produce a previously undescribed syringe-lik e structure that injects a stimulatory protein into the larvae of tubeworms, triggering metamorphosis. In response to this stimulatory protein, the developmental program of tubeworm metamorphosis is mediated by conserved signaling systems including Protein Kinase C and two newly identified Nuclear Hormone Receptors. Additionally, I will discuss our current effort to employ synthetic biology tools in marine bacteria to study biochemically different bacterial products that stimulate animal metamorphosis. Our research has led to a previously undescribed mechanism of bacteria-stimulated animal development and provides an example of the power of fundamental research as an engine for scientific discovery.
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