Anthony Bellantuono, Ph.D.
I have always been fascinated by the underwater world and the processes which make it tick. As an undergraduate at the University of New England, I was introduced to subtidal science by Dr. Richard Wahle at Bigelow Laboratories for Ocean Sciences, where I spent a considerable amount of time underwater investigating the ecology of larval and juvenile American lobsters. I came to appreciate how biotic and abiotic factors came together to shape populations. As a graduate student in Mauricio Rodriguez-Lanetty’s lab, I fell in love with corals, their endosymbiotic partners. My dissertation work focused on the capacity of coral to acclimatize to heat stress, as a window into coral’s capability to cope with anthropogenic climate change. Though initially focused on the coral host, it was in this environment that I developed a profound appreciation for coral’s nutritional endosymbionts, a diverse group of dinoflagellates in the family Symbiodiniaceae. Without these photosynthetic partners, we would not have these massive, living reefs throughout the tropics which a billion people depend on for food, protection, and other services.
Reef-building corals are remarkable ecosystem engineers which transform benthic environments throughout the tropics. This process is dependent upon a nutritional symbiosis with a diverse group of dinoflagellates in the family Symbiodiniaceae. In the DeGennaro lab, my projects are focused on developing genetic tools for the study of the Cnidarian-Symbiodiniaceae system, primarily on the side of the endosymbiont. We are currently implementing both forward and reverse genetics approaches to work towards building necessary genetic tools for this system. We are also working to build genomic resources to further enable these efforts.
Additionally, Dr. DeGennaro and I have worked together, in collaboration with teaching assistants, to transform FIU’s undergraduate genetics lab course into a course-based undergraduate research experience centered on coral genetics. Students are introduced to coral genetics through model symbiotic Cnidarian Exaiptasia pallidaand Symbiodiniaceae endosymbionts. Throughout the lab, students assess phenotypes of wild-collected anemones from a geographic cline and genotype these samples. Students also learn about forward genetics by performing a mutant screen using Symbiodiniaceae.