CORDIS - EU research results

Evolving a Home for Nemo: Genomic Consequences and Convergence in a Model Marine Mutualism

Project description

Searching for an explanation of mutualism in the genomes of clownfish and sea anemones

Mutualism is a type of symbiosis in which both parties benefit from the interaction and there are examples of it everywhere. However, despite its universal nature, or perhaps because of it, there is no unifying evolutionary theory of mutualism. Clownfish and the sea anemones where they live are a well-known example of a mutualistic symbiosis. The sea anemones provide shelter and leftover food for the clownfish, who clean up the environment by eating the waste and aid water circulation while fanning their fins. The EU-funded ANEMONE project is studying this classic example of mutualism, using full-genome sequencing to address several hypotheses regarding the development and evolution of mutualism and the organisms involved.


The importance of mutualism is underscored by its ubiquity- virtually all of life engages in complex multi-level mutualisms that critically impact the formation and distribution of biodiversity around the globe. Although general expectations exist, no unifying evolutionary theory of mutualism has been established. Largely impeding a synthetic framework for mutualism are incomplete understandings of individual case studies. No mutualism is perhaps more representative of this than the iconic clownfish-sea anemone symbioses, a model mutualism regularly used for exploring fundamental biological processes, but one in which our understanding remains wildly incomplete due to a lack of research into the evolution of the host anemones. Here I propose to use full genome sequencing to conduct the first genomic investigation into the clownfish-hosting sea anemones. I will test: 1) if mutualistic benefits of hosting clownfishes has led to multiple adaptive radiations in host sea anemones, and are thus more diverse than currently described. 2) Whether the mutualistic benefits of hosting clownfishes led to significant ecological opportunity for host anemones, and thus, signatures of demographic population expansion that coincide with the onset of the symbiosis. 3) Whether mutualism with clownfishes has driven convergent genome evolution and architecture among host anemones. 4) The Red King Hypothesis, which states that mutualistic lineages should have slower rates of molecular evolution than their free living relatives. The proposed research will provide novel insight into this iconic mutualism that will bear on the interpretation of dozens of prior studies that span scientific disciplines. Fully disentangling the evolutionary implications of mutualism in this symbiosis will provide critical comparative data from the marine environment in order to more fully evaluate the generalities of mutualism across ecosystems.


Net EU contribution
€ 203 149,44

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Schweiz/Suisse/Svizzera Région lémanique Vaud
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 203 149,44