Cnidarians are often considered simple animals, but the more than 13,000 estimated species (e.g., corals, hydroids and jellyfish) of the early diverging phylum exhibit a broad diversity of forms, functions and behaviors, some of which are demonstrably complex. In particular, cubozoans (box jellyfish) are cnidarians that have evolved a number of distinguishing features. Some cubozoan species possess complex mating behaviors or particularly potent stings, and all possess well-developed light sensation involving image-forming eyes. Like all cnidarians, cubozoans have specialized subcellular structures called nematocysts that are used in prey capture and defense. The objective of this study is to contribute to the development of the box jellyfish Alatina alata as a model cnidarian. This cubozoan species offers numerous advantages for investigating morphological and molecular traits underlying complex processes and coordinated behavior in free-living medusozoans (i.e., jellyfish), and more broadly throughout Metazoa. First, I provide an overview of Cnidaria with an emphasis on the current understanding of genes and proteins implicated in complex biological processes in a few select cnidarians. Second, to further develop resources for A. alata, I provide a formal redescription of this cubozoan and establish a neotype specimen voucher, which serve to stabilize the taxonomy of the species. Third, I generate the first functionally annotated transcriptome of adult and larval A. alata tissue and apply preliminary differential expression analyses to identify candidate genes implicated broadly in biological processes related to prey capture and defense, vision and the phototransduction pathway and sexual reproduction and gametogenesis. Fourth, to better understand venom diversity and mechanisms controlling venom synthesis in A. alata, I use bioinformatics to investigate gene candidates with dual roles in venom and digestion, and review the biology of prey capture and digestion in cubozoans. The morphological and molecular resources presented herein contribute to understanding the evolution of cubozoan characteristics and serve to facilitate further research on this emerging cubozoan model.
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|Advisor:||Bely, Alexandra E., Collins, Allen G.|
|Commitee:||Cartwright, Paulyn, El-Sayed, Najib M., Haag, Eric|
|School:||University of Maryland, College Park|
|Department:||Behavior, Ecology, Evolution and Systematics|
|School Location:||United States -- Maryland|
|Source:||DAI-B 78/02(E), Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||Morphology, Biology, Molecular biology|
|Keywords:||Cubozoa, Sex, Taxonomy, Transcriptomics, Venom, Vision|
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