Observing copepods through a genomic lens
1 Institute of Aquaculture, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA, Scotland, UK
2 University of Oklahoma Biological Station, Kingston, OK 73439, USA
3 Department of Oceanography, School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822, USA
4 Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Pacific Biological Station, Nanaimo, BC, V9T 6N7, Canada
5 Center of Rapid Evolution (CORE), University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA
6 Department of Biology, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA, 22807, USA
Frontiers in Zoology 2011, 8:22 doi:10.1186/1742-9994-8-22Published: 20 September 2011
Copepods outnumber every other multicellular animal group. They are critical components of the world's freshwater and marine ecosystems, sensitive indicators of local and global climate change, key ecosystem service providers, parasites and predators of economically important aquatic animals and potential vectors of waterborne disease. Copepods sustain the world fisheries that nourish and support human populations. Although genomic tools have transformed many areas of biological and biomedical research, their power to elucidate aspects of the biology, behavior and ecology of copepods has only recently begun to be exploited.
The extraordinary biological and ecological diversity of the subclass Copepoda provides both unique advantages for addressing key problems in aquatic systems and formidable challenges for developing a focused genomics strategy. This article provides an overview of genomic studies of copepods and discusses strategies for using genomics tools to address key questions at levels extending from individuals to ecosystems. Genomics can, for instance, help to decipher patterns of genome evolution such as those that occur during transitions from free living to symbiotic and parasitic lifestyles and can assist in the identification of genetic mechanisms and accompanying physiological changes associated with adaptation to new or physiologically challenging environments. The adaptive significance of the diversity in genome size and unique mechanisms of genome reorganization during development could similarly be explored. Genome-wide and EST studies of parasitic copepods of salmon and large EST studies of selected free-living copepods have demonstrated the potential utility of modern genomics approaches for the study of copepods and have generated resources such as EST libraries, shotgun genome sequences, BAC libraries, genome maps and inbred lines that will be invaluable in assisting further efforts to provide genomics tools for copepods.
Genomics research on copepods is needed to extend our exploration and characterization of their fundamental biological traits, so that we can better understand how copepods function and interact in diverse environments. Availability of large scale genomics resources will also open doors to a wide range of systems biology type studies that view the organism as the fundamental system in which to address key questions in ecology and evolution.