Perkinsus species are important marine parasites of molluscs including mussels and oysters with substantial commercial and environmental impact. Perkinsus forms a sister lineage to the apicomplexan parasites (e.g. malaria agent, Plasmodium) and share similar invasion-related structures with these better studied pathogens. However, much less is known of the transmission and invasion biology of Perkinsus spp. We are developing genetic tools to study these parasites, and Perkinsus is emerging as an experimental model for marine parasites. The life cycle of Perkinsus species start with motile zoospores that are ingested by the host via filtration of sea water. After infection of the mollusc, these cells develop into a replicating non-motile vegetative form of the parasite, the trophozoite. Upon host death or morbidity, the parasites are released back into the water column where they differentiate into zoosporangia that release up to 100 motile zoospores. In vitro, Perkinsus species can be maintained as trophozoites in an axenic sea water-based media, and this is the best studied form of the parasite. However, Perkinsus olseni, can be triggered to sporulate in vitro using Ray’s fluid thioglycollate media, and we seek to better study this phase of the lifecycle that is essential for disease spread. To do this, we are determining stage-specific gene expression, during the transformation from trophozoites to zoospores, by RNA-Seq. This will both identify genes that are specific to this growth stage, and also identify zoospore-specific promoters that can be used in experimental manipulation and study of this poorly known cell stage.

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