Unravelling the functional genetics of dinoflagellates: a review of approaches and opportunities

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Journal Article
Perspectives in Phycology, 2016, 3 (1), pp. 37 - 52
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Dinoflagellates occupy an extraordinarily diverse array of ecological niches. Their success stems from a suite of functional and ecological strategies, including the production of secondary metabolites with anti-predator or allelopathic impacts, nutritional flexibility, and the ability to form symbiotic relationships. Despite their ecological importance, we currently have a poor understanding of the genetic basis for many of these strategies, due to the complex genomes of dinoflagellates. Genomics and transcriptomic sequencing approaches are now providing the first insights into the genetic basis of some dinoflagellate functional traits, providing the opportunity for novel ecological experiments, novel methods for monitoring of harmful biotoxins, and allowing us to investigate the production of ecologically and economically important compounds such as the long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid, docosahexanoic acid and the climatically important metabolite, dimethylsulfoniopropionate. Despite these advances, we still generally lack the ability to genetically manipulate species, which would enable the confirmation of biosynthetic pathways and the development of novel bio-engineering applications. Here, we describe advances in understanding the genetic basis of dinoflagellate ecology, and propose biotechnological approaches that could be applied to further transform our understanding of this unique group of eukaryotes.
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