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Earthworm project reaches final of global genome competition

13 April 2016


A team of Cardiff University scientists has taken an earthworm research project to the final round of the 2016 SMRT Sequencing Grant Program, “Explore your most interesting genome”.

This global contest gives researchers the opportunity to win grant funding for their genome-based research, with the winning project decided via a public voting campaign.

Cardiff University’s entry proposes to sequence the complete genome of an earthworm that has adapted to an environment associated with the active volcanic calderas at Furnas, São Miguel, the largest Island of the Azorean Archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

The high abundance of the earthworm in Furnas indicates its remarkable tolerance to high soil temperature, exceptionally high carbon dioxide, and low oxygen levels, and elevated metal bioavailability, conditions that would be lethal for the majority of terrestrial animals.

Dr Luis Cunha from Cardiff School of Biosciences explains the significance of the research

“The genetic mechanisms by which animals cope (or not cope) with the environment they live in encompasses some of the most fundamental processes of evolution. This genome will provide a unique opportunity to study some of these mechanisms under an extreme volcanic environment.

Our study will focus on the genetic basis for biochemical, cellular and physiological modifications employed to live in such stressful environment with the aim of answering our central question – how do these animals thrive in such an extreme environment?”

Dr Paolo Francalacci, Associate Professor of Genetics at the University of Sassari, has endorsed the project.

“Organisms living in extreme environments are of great scientific interest for science, due to their special adaptations, and I am sure that the research team will be able to draw the best from the study of the genome of this interesting animal.”

The winner will be announced after the public vote closes on 1 May 2016. The four runners-up will have an immediate second opportunity to ‘win’ via a crowdsource funding campaign

Find out more about the project and vote

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