Top of Page
Skip main navigation

Linking Crude Oil and Dispersant Effects to New Model Reef Sponge Gene Expression

Grant Winners

  • Jose Victor Lopez, Ph.D. – Halmos College of Oceanography and Natural Sciences
  • Emily Blake, MS – Translational Research & Economic Development
  • Yvain Desplat, BS – Halmos College of Oceanography and Natural Sciences


  • Richard Dodge, Ph.D. – Halmos College of Oceanography and Natural Sciences
  • H. Thomas Temple, M.D – Translational Research & Economic Development


Award Winners Environmental impacts of such oil spills can be seen throughout the entire water column, and typically have a negative impact on most biological taxa within ecosystems. As an effort to understand the effect of oil spills and dispersant on marine life, as well as on humans, more and more studies should focus on the impact of such chemicals at the genetic scale. Therefore, we propose to study the effects of oil and dispersant on gene expression (transcriptome) using a developing model marine organism, the marine sponge Cinachyrella spp. Thus, the major goal of this project is to show that gene expression has been significantly changed in a new indicator sponge species after an acute environmental stress (oil and dispersant). Funding would help complete a study that began after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill (DWHOS), and possibly lead to new external funding. Preliminary data from our lab showed the toxic effects of crude oil and dispersant, but funding ran out to complete transcriptome sequencing before the study was complete. Also, Illumina next-generation sequencing technologies had just begun their rise to ascendancy and affordability. Our lab has now caught up with the revolution which we can apply to this project. Our main goal is to characterize and quantify the effects of oil, dispersant and oil:dispersant mixtures on the gene expression of experimental model sponges found in S. Florida. Previous results from our preliminary genetic profiling studies showed a change in regulation in many genes, including a cancer oncogene homologue Ras. We will apply a relatively novel RNA-seq kit (Lexogen QuantSeq 3' mRNA-Seq Library Prep Kit FWD for Illumina) in order to generate transcriptome libraries from each treatment for comparison. One of the most useful properties of this kit is that only one fragment is produced per transcript. This implies rigorous quantitation and no transcript length normalization is required, thus allowing more accurate determination of gene expression. Overall, this project has multiple impacts, such as characterizing altered expression of genes in response to environmental stressors, and can help promote a local reef sponge as a new experimental model system for leverage in future external funding requests. This project will also provide an opportunity for training a graduate student in advanced bioinformatics while finding animal gene homologues relevant to human health.
Return to top of page