GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Animals need microbes to survive and thrive, and many organisms have evolved mutually beneficial organs to house these microbes, said a University of Florida scientist.
Scientists call the relationship between these organs “symbiotic” because they benefit from each other.
New findings from UF researcher Jamie Foster and her colleagues give clues about how the symbiotic relationships of the organs that house the useful microbes help shape animal evolution and how well they adapt to their environment.
“Additionally, this work is vital to understand how animals talk to and cooperate with bacteria and furthers the knowledge of our own bodies and the complex relationship we have with microbes,” Foster said.
Scientists have researched the Hawaiian bobtail squid for 30 years because it’s a model organism to study symbiosis. This squid stands out in the animal kingdom because it has two symbiotic organs — one that helps hide the squid from predators and one that helps it reproduce, said Foster, an associate professor of microbiology and cell science at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
In newly published research, scientists including Foster studied the genome of the bobtail squid to find out how the cephalopod’s symbiotic organs evolved. Such findings give them clues about how microbes have helped shape the evolution of animals, she said.
By comparing the genome of bobtail squid to its octopus cousin, the team showed that the bobtail squid’s genome went through large-scale reorganizations and expansions, leaving behind unique evolutionary footprints.
“These footprints are essentially a genomic ‘upgrade’ compared to their ancestors and likely contributed to the evolution of these organisms, including novelties like symbiotic organs, to help the animals better adapt and survive in the environment,” Foster said.
One example of this upgrade lies in the squid’s anti-predator organ. There, the squid uses light generated by the symbiotic bacteria as an “invisibility cloak” to match the moonlight at night and essentially hide from predators, Foster said. The genes associated with this organ mimic an eye in detecting and manipulating the bacteria-derived light.
Alternatively, the symbiotic organ that helps the squid reproduce contains an abundance of novel or “orphan” genes unique to the bobtail squid, Foster said. The orphan genes enable the squid to use new tissues to help accommodate their beneficial microbes.
Between their findings about the squid’s ability to fight off predators and reproduce using unique genes, Foster said scientists see more usefulness for symbiotic organs for all animals.
The new study, which also involved Oleg Simakov, a faculty member in the department of molecular evolution and development at the University of Vienna and Spencer Nyholm, associate professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of Connecticut, is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, firstname.lastname@example.org
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