Microbiology and Parasitology Laboratory

Growing in San Francisco, Ourense, Galicia, Spain

Molecular Parasitology and Genetic Engineering Group

On going

If you look for them, parasites are anywhere. We look for them in Maine, and indeed here they are. Unless someone comes with a new paradigm in immunology of invertebrates, as today, vaccination of oysters is not an option, since as invertebrates, oysters lack adaptive immunity; consequently, most intervention strategies have focused on management of the resource with variable success. Two of the major diseases that impact the oyster production in North America are “Dermo” disease caused by Perkinsus marinus and “MSX” (multinucleated sphere X) disease caused by Haplosporidium nelsoni. In Maine we have detected both of them with high prevalence and since they are here to stay, we are adapting to live with them. Often, parasites had a bad name and we often forget they have evolved to also play a role in the environment. Over the years, we have been working (I mean the post-docs and students) towards giving P. marinus a good name by developing the molecular tools necessary to accelerate their evolution and use them to solve pressing world health problems. For example, we have converted P. marinus in a platform, the first marine parasite, for expressing heterologous genes. We are focusing on vaccine candidate genes for Malaria and Cryptosporidiosis. Thank the oysters the next time you are in a Raw Bar.

Perkinsus marinus MOE

The bases for the development of the heterologous expression system is Perkinsus marinus MOE (PmMOE), a gene unique to the Perkinsus genus that lands on the surface of the trophozoite stage.

Heterologous expression in Perkinsus marinus

We are actively expressing genes of medical and veterinary relevance both to generate proteins for further characterization and as a vehicle for delivering antigens. Genes we are trying include the protozoan parasites Plasmodium falciparum, Toxoplasma gondii, and Cryptosporidium hominis.

On the make

As we are part of the environment, we are also interested in improving it without forgetting that we need to feed the planet. We already know there is a problem, talk to me about solutions. Our approach is to find ways to release pressure of our already exhausted resources at the same time that we create nutritious products and wealth for the people producing them. At the lab, we are exploring cellular aquaculture, a spin off from cellular agriculture. We ferment beer, wine, cheese, tofu, kimchi, Sriracha, why not grow seafood-derived products? We have genomes with thousands of genes, and nature and evolution are providing us with an increasing number of tools; we have to put them to work. This project is still clearing the field to take off.

Scope of Work

  • Generate a repertoire of plasmids and genetic tools for continue engineering Perkinsus marinus
  • As a genetic traceable protozoan explore the cell biology of Perkinsus marinus
  • Apply the lessons learned making P. marinus a genetically traceable organism to other marine microeukaryotes
  • Optimize P. marinus as a heterologous expression system and as new platform for delivering vaccines
  • Identify stem cells in oyster and ways to create induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC)
  • Create cell lines from oysters
  • Explore avenues for cellular aquaculture
  • Keep educating students in responsible genetic engineering
  • Using basic science to tackle environmental and health challenges
  • Identifying ways to apply AI to cell biology

Moments

2012-2021

2019 Lincoln Academy Tour - Bleeding oysters
2019 Center for Teaching and Learning
2018 BioME – Maine Science Day

Funding