The main focus of our current work is on diplonemids, a eukaryotic group displaying most unusual gene expression.
In Diplonema papillatum, we discovered that it's mitochondrial genome consists of >100 different
circular chromosomes, each of which carries a small gene module (see list of publications).
Gene modules are transcribed individually and then joined together to a contiguous mRNA by trans-splicing.
Further, we detected several events RNA editing, mostly proceeding by insertion of multiple Us at a given site.
Our working hypothesis is that trans-splicing and RNA editing in diplonemids is mediated by trans-factors. To test this hypothesis, we use genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics and bioinformatics approaches. Experimental data help to formulate specific search strategies and vice versa, bioinformatics hypotheses are being tested experimentally.
In addition, we have started exploring mtDNAs of other members of Euglenozoa, notably euglenids, basal kinetoplastids and yet undescribed diplonemids, in order to trace back the evolution and dispersal of RNA editing and multipartite mitochondrial genomes in this lineage.
The second genome project is the Unicorn initiative, a collaboration of seven research groups from Canada, UK, and USA, and endorsed by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). This project aims at understanding how multicellularity first evolved. Genomic data are being generated from unicellular relatives of animals and fungi, i.e., choanflagellates, Ichthyosporea, Nuclearidae, chytrids, zygomycetes and apusozoa (outgroup) (see e.g., Ruiz-Trillo I et al, 2007).