Our goal is to isolate, culture and subsequently characterize the cell biology, behavior and ecosystem relevance of the most abundant unknown protists on earth. Protists are single-celled and colonial microbial eukaryotes which, due to their size (generally between a few micrometers and a few hundred micrometers) are a critical part of the food webs in all of earth's principal ecosystems. In addition, protists form the backbone of the eukaryotic tree of life, meaning that studies of protists inform our understanding of the evolution of eukaryotic cell biology, gene content and species diversity. Our work currently consists of four related projects:
1. Biology of Globally Abundant Protists: we aim to isolate and culture the most abundant, and as yet unknown, protists on earth. Once in culture, we will characterize their cell biology, ultrastructure, life history, behavior and interspecies interactions using time-lapse and fluorescence microscopy techniques, accompanied by single-cell sequencing. In this process, we hope to establish these protists as new model systems whose biology and ecosystem relevance can be studied intensively in the lab.
2. Global Gene Expression of Abundant Protists: we begin with hypotheses, based on our lab studies, regarding the potential ecological roles of the abundant protists we study. Armed with the their gene catalogs from genome and transcriptome sequencing, we apply the bioinformatic methods we developed to investigate the patterns in their gene expression in global-scale metatranscriptomic sequencing databases. As examples, these hypotheses may relate to their ecological roles, in terms of species interactions, or their responses to changes in environmental conditions.
3. Eukaryotic Gene Family and Protein Domain Evolution: we develop new computational methods to study the genes and genomes of diverse eukaryotes in order to reconstruct the evolutionary history of gene families, protein domains and the biological processes they drive.
In addition, because only a tiny fraction of protist species are available in culture, we anticipate that the sequence resources we generate for newly isolated protists will be informative for studies of eukaryotic diversity and the evolution of gene content and function.
4. Resources for the Protist Research Community and Beyond: as we work, we design the output of our research projects to be reusable. We make our data, code and wet lab protocols available to the research community. We also lead or participate in projects to collect and organize eukaryotic sequence data and taxonomy, in order to standardize and streamline their use for all researchers.
Web page: https://www.beaplab.org