Deep Sea Biology Symposium 2018

The bloggers here at The Molecular Ecologist have been regaling you with recaps of various conferences from The Ecological Society of America to Evolution  to  the more intimate  Lake Arrowhead Microbial Genomics Conference.  Although it contemplated skipping my synopsis to prevent conference summation fatigue in you, dear reader, I feel it’s important to highlight this one because it only happens once every three years and it’s fabulous.  Near the beginning of September, I attended the 15th Deep Sea Biology Symposium in Monterey California hosted by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI).  The talks featured topics like robots, bioluminescence, hydrothermal vents, Yeti crabs, and larvaceans.  Though it’s an international meeting, it still felt intimate.  This year there were 405 attendants and at most two concurrent sessions.  The last one was in Aveiro, Portugal in 2015.  The next one will be in 2021 in Japan.

I’ll suppress the desire to mention everything I saw and most of what I didn’t, but the urge is strong.  There were so many stellar talks.  The great thing about deep sea talks, is that they often showcase breathtaking images of animals in the water column and under the microscope, as well as innovative technology used to get the images and data. In fact, there was an entire session devoted to technology and observing systems. There are robots that grow increasingly complex with regard to sampling effort and capacity.  There are long term oceanic observation networks that synthesize and send out data gathered from moorings and landers planted across the earth’s oceans. A couple of the highlights include a long term observation system to look at sub-seafloor crustal microbial communities (Beth Orcutt, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences) and DeepPIV, an instrumentation package that includes continuous lasers and optics and a dye/particle injector all attached to an ROV, which enables in situ feeding experiments, measurement of filtration rates and structure of larvacean mucus houses (Kakani Katija, MBARI).

Though presentations in most of the sessions included some facet of molecular ecology, they were concentrated in “Deep Sea Omics”, Taxonomy and Phylogenetics”, and “Connectivity and Biodiversity”.  Michelle Gaither from UCF showed that there is polygenic adaptation to depth in the deep sea fish, Coryphaenoides rupestris involving nine non-synonymous changes in six genes. Fish from 1800 m were all fixed for the same alleles. The authors posit that fish with different genotypes segregate by depth as they mature and the significance of 1000m vs 1800m depths might be access to the deep scattering layer.

Darrin Schultz (MBARI, UCSC) is developing an assembler to successfully assemble the genome of four species of ctenophores.  The challenge has been due to heterogeneity of the genome.  There are many heterozygous states, inversions, and indels between the paternal and maternal haplotypes. Large effective population sizes and short generation times hinders getting good quality genomes.

Maeva Perez (University of Montreal) utilized CRISPR (the same biological system used for gene editing in model organisms)  sequences to track symbiont diversity in hydrothermal vent tubeworms. Each palindromic repeat in a CRISPR sequence is a historical record of the viral infections a bacterial lineage has been exposed to, so can be used to discriminate between strains of closely related bacteria.

Jiao Cheng (Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences) presented compelling results combining population and functional genomics of a species of Yeti crab, Shinkaia crosnieri. These crabs are interesting because they occur in both hydrothermal vent and methane seep environments.  Mitochondrial DNA results showed that no alleles are shared between these two environments. SNPs from RAD-seq results showed similar differentiation.  FST-based outlier loci and identification of orthologous genes via comparisons of transcriptomes between the two environments uncovered signals of both positive and purifying selection in genes having to do with sulfur metabolism,  oxidative stress, and detoxification, to name a few.

We were rewarded with outstanding plenary speakers, including Julie Packard, who spoke of the role the David and Lucille Packard Foundation has had on ocean stewardship and the partnership with MBARI to merge ocean conservation, technology, and research.  Shana Goffredi (Occidental College) summarized the discovery, biogeography, phylogenetics, physiology, and reproductive biology of the bone eating worm genus, Osedax.  Janet Voight (Field Museum) delighted the audience with some natural history of Pacific octopuses. Steve Haddock (MBARI) shared gorgeous video of various bioluminescent organisms, covered in greater detail here, and Tracey Sutton (NOVA Southeastern University) emphasized the need for baseline, time series data so when disasters like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill happen, we have the information necessary to start the process of recovery.

An excellent schematic from Chong Chen’s plenary talk. Photo by DK Coykendall.
Excursion to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Showing my squat lobster bias. Photo by DK Coykendall
Charismatic megafauna entertainment while lunching. Photo by DK Coykendall

One morning was devoted to lightening talks where scientists presenting posters were allowed 2 minutes to summarize their findings.  Personally, I’m a fan.  When you see how many talks are scheduled, it’s intimidating, but I thought it was efficient and effective.  This meeting was the perfect size to make this type of thing worthwhile.  It definitely drew my attention to a handful of posters that I made sure to seek out during the following poster session.  In light of our society’s evolution to bite sized Twitter communications, perhaps this is the wave of the future – lightening talks and poster sessions to hold our increasingly diminished attention spans.

I could go on and on, dear reader, but I’m on a 160 foot boat right now off the coast of South Carolina in 11 foot seas participating in some deep sea research myself, trying not to barf on my screen. If any of these topics piqued your interest, I urge you to search #DSBS2018 on Twitter, and/or go to the The Deep Sea Biology Society web page and peruse the abstracts yourself.

Signing off.

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