Scientists Explore Role of Genetics in Marine Conservation

Scientists Explore Role of Genetics in Marine Conservation

A new technology that uses genetics in biodiversity conservation is the main feature of an international program that has gathered at Silliman University scientists, professors and graduate students from around the world.

The 1st Pan-Pacific Advanced Studies Institute (PacASI) hosts 61 participants from ten countries for a series of case study and research presentations, discussions and synthesis workshops related to the use of advanced genomic applications in marine science and resource management in Southeast Asia.

Being conducted from July 15 to 25, PacASI is an initiative supported by the National Science Foundation of the United States to propagate advance knowledge and training between leading scientists and researchers, particularly in the field of next generation sequencing (NGS).

Participants to the Institute had to apply and go through screening before they were admitted. They come from the United States, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, Iran, Thailand, Sweden, Brazil and the Philippines.

The ten-day program is guided by six topics: (1) genetic diversity in natural populations, phylogeography, and applications to marine management in Southeast Asia; (2) genetics of local adaptation; (3) genomic signatures of natural selection; (4) functional ecology based on global gene expression profiling; (5) RAD approaches to marine and conservation sciences; and (6) single nucleotide polymorphisms versus microsatellites in population ecology.

PacASI is spearheaded by the Old Dominion University (ODU) in Virginia, United States. ODU professor and marine conservation biologist Dr. Kent Carpenter is the Principal Investigator.

Silliman University’s inclusion in the Institute is born of its formal tie-up with ODU on the Coral Triangle Partnership in International Relations and Extension (CT-PIRE) project. IEMS Director Dr. Hilconida Calumpong headed the CT-PIRE project for Silliman last year, with Dr. Carpenter overseeing the overall project. Dr. Calumpong is one of the organizers of PacASI.

Most of the case study presentations at PacASI are products of the CT-PIRE project that uses NGS.

PacASI elevates the understanding of NGS and its potential in preserving the marine environment. With leading scientists and researchers from both sides of the Pacific in attendance, it builds on the knowledge gained by traditional Sanger sequencing methods that are beginning to identify corroborated patterns of marine population structure in the Southeast Asian region.  These patterns test hypotheses about the ecological and evolutionary origins of the high marine biodiversity in the region and provide guidelines on how to protect and sustainably manage these resources.  Advanced genomics has demonstrated potential to greatly enhance this line of research.

Establishing the relevance of CT-PIRE to PacASI and the connection between the two, Dr. Calumpong said CT-PIRE tested major biogeographic hypothesis on the origin and accumulation of high biodiversity in the Philippines, using a multidisciplinary approach that combined geospatial modeling of ocean currents with comparative population genetics. It brought to Silliman researchers and graduate students from ODU to undertake with their Silliman and other Filipino counterparts joint research activities on the country’s marine biodiversity and that of the broader Coral Triangle region.

The Coral Triangle region covers the waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Timor Leste and the Philippines. The region is highly abundant with species of corals, fishes, crustaceans, mollusks and marine plants. Its biodiversity is the highest around the world.  

Dr. Carpenter explained that CT-PIRE looks at “transforming the Coral Triangle, a hotspot of marine biodiversity, into a hotspot of marine research and education.”

He said CT-PIRE seeks to test hypotheses on speciation and origins of high diversity of the Coral Triangle, apply population genetic results for improvement and marine resource management and conservation, and train and build collaborative ties for a new international cohort of scientists for a stronger genomic research and applied genetic foundation in the region.

PacASI culminates on July 25 with its topics covering the theme “marine resource management and NGS applications to aquaculture”.