Non-Technical Paragraph Everything in biology is connected. It is the job of life scientists to reveal important biological properties in the most impactful, efficient, and economical way. To do so they look for model organisms that are particularly tractable for studying complex biological processes and then apply what is learned to better understand other organisms. For more than a century, sea urchins have provided a valuable research model that has contributed significantly to understanding of many fundamental biological processes such as fertilization, embryonic development and cell division. Sea urchins have proven to be a valuable model due to their close genetic relationship to vertebrate animals and many features that make experimentation easier. The goal of this grant is to create the next generation of tools to enhance the utility of sea urchins as research models that will enable new areas of research and to make these tools widely available to the scientific community. Areas of biological research to be enhanced by the tools created from this grant include a better understanding of how eggs and sperm interact at fertilization, understanding the rules of embryo development, how nerve cells are made, how sex is determined, how animals protect themselves from environmental insults and from infection, and how tissues and organs can regenerate when they are damaged. An essential component of the grant is to reach beyond scientists to the public, students and teachers and to make the sea urchin a highly attractive and impactful research and education tool of the twenty-first century.
Technical Paragraph Sea urchin researchers have long sought to leverage the experimental tractability of the embryo and adult with genetic approaches but, to date, manipulations have been limited largely to dependence on morpholinos or pharmacology. The overarching goal of this EDGE grant is to build tools that overcome major obstacles to testing gene functionality in echinoderms, opening up a new era of discovery for diverse and integrated studies across all life history stages of this valuable sister group to chordates. This goal will be realized by prioritized Grand Challenges as follows: (1) Targeted DNA insertion for gene tagging, conditional, and reversible gene control; (2) Rapid, standardized protocols for larval culturing, metamorphosis, juvenile development, and adult sexual maturation including nutritional and environmental optimization for each stage; (3) Rapid, simple sexing protocols of animals to maximize resources; (4) Simple and efficient protocols for culturing cells from the embryo and adult in vitro with routine genetic manipulations; (5) Routine archiving/cryopreserving genetically manipulated sperm, embryos and cells for long term sustainability. These integrated new technologies with controlled and heritable genetic manipulations and the ability to test gene function and regulation in in vitro cell-based systems will enable new avenues of investigation that fully exploit the important properties of echinoderms as a research organism. This grant will focus on a single species of sea urchin, Lytechinus variegatus, but the bottlenecks opened by tools developed herein will permeate the phylum enabling significant advances across echinoderms. Rapid dissemination of results to the larger community of sea urchin researchers is an integral part of the grant.
This project is jointly funded by the Developmental Systems Cluster (DSC) in the Division of Integrative Organismal Systems of the Biological Sciences Directorate and the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.