Dinoflagellates, a major unicellular group (>2000 species), are a significant group of regular phytoplankton, the intracellular symbiotic microalgae (zooxanthellae) of corals (and many other invertebrates), and major causative agents of harmful algal blooms (HABs). Many species are also important in aquaculture, as larval feeds, as disease agents and as toxin producers, causing seafood poisoning syndromes when amplified through the food chain.
Research in my lab focuses on four inter-related aspects of dinoflagellate cell biology, the architectural organization of liquid crystalline chromosomes, the biogenesis of their cell coverings, cell-cycle regulation and life-cycle transitions; whether free-living or in hospite. Motile-immotile cell transitions are important determinants in the dynamics of HABs, stress responses and bleached coral regeneration.
Cellulose, membrane lipids and nucleic acids are the three most important biopolymers of life. Species of the heterotrophic genus Crypthecodinium have high oil content and is an industrial producer of DHA (incorporated in most infant formula). Many symbiotic dinoflagellates are maintained in hospite by many invertebrate cells, the most important of which is the coral-Symbiodinium symbiosis, cessation of which manifested as coral bleaching. Many dinoflagellates are at the forefront facing climatic changes, through their exposures to extreme environments, multiple modes of nutrition (very often at the same time) their contribution to marine snow, their formation of recurring cysts and their potential in calcium carbonate sequestration. Recent developments in genomics and transgenesis render strategic to consider the group as a new frontier for molecular biotechnology and synthetic biology.