Genomic responses to the Deepwater Horizon event and the development of high-throughput biological assays for oil spills

Principal Investigator

Better understanding the deepwater impacts of oil spills.

Within the Gulf of Mexico, the benthic environment is biologically hyper-diverse, performing critical ecosystem functions that have consequences for the ecology of the entire Gulf region. Benthic communities are strongly impacted by oil spills, which render them a valuable tool for assaying and monitoring the impacts of contamination. However, the characterization of these communities has been impractical for large- scale deployment due to the tedious and time-consuming nature of the taxonomy required to accurately describe these communities. This project leverages recent and dramatic advances in DNA sequencing technology that have transformed the process of rapid, accurate, and cheap assays of community biodiversity. To achieve these goals, the project team brings together the interdisciplinary expertise in marine biology, taxonomy, genomics and bioinformatics necessary for the development of a meaningful and robust technology and has formulated three objectives.

Objective 1: Use targeted sequencing of individual benthic eukaryotes to generate a representative sample of diverse genomes from which to select an expanded set of nuclear and mitochondrial loci for targeted mining of shotgun metagenomic data.

Objective 2: Assess eukaryotic community structure across space and time via high-throughput sequencing of environmental metagenomes using a new and expanded array of nuclear and mitochondrial marker genes.

Objective 3: Establish Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and reproducible bioinformatic workflows for environmental monitoring of oil spills. This will include establishing a database for integration of taxonomic and molecular datasets, and dissemination of tools and educational resources.