Popular Science Presentation

The overall goal of our research is to understand how different evolutionary processes acting on the genomic level have changed, and still are changing, the biology of microbial eukaryotes. We focus on diplomonads, a peculiar group with the genetic material divided into two separate nuclei in the cell. Knowledge from our research gives a deeper understanding of the origin and evolution of parasites, and the role of eukaryotic microbes in natural environments.

I am using a diplomonads, a group of microorganisms as a model since many years. We are using sequencing technology to do whole genome sequencing of different diplomonads. Using bioinformatic tools we are determine differences and similarities within the group, as well as between diplomonads and other organisms. Then we are trying to couple differences in the genome to variations in the biology.

The group diplomonads both contains parasites which, for example, infect humans (e.g. Giardia lamblia) and fish (e.g. Spironucleus salmonicida), but also species that do not cause disease in the host, and free-living species. We have shown that diplomonads have adapted to oxygen-poor environments by acquisition of genetic material from other organisms. We have also demonstrated the presence of hydrogenosomes, hydrogen-producing organelles, in some diplomonads. Our studies of the genome sequences also show that a rapid evolution of gene families also contributes to specializations within the group. There are strong indications that diplomonads undergo genetic exchange via rare sexual recombination. Thanks to our research diplomonads are now one of the more well-studied groups of eukaryotic microbes.