Analysis of the newly sequenced crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS) genome and secreted proteins highlights factors that may be used by the animals to communicate with one another. The study, published online in Nature this week, could aid the development of novel strategies to help control this prolific coral reef predator.
The COTS is a problem throughout the Indo-Pacific region, where outbreaks lead to loss of coral cover and biodiversity. Bernard Degnan and colleagues sequenced the genomes of two COTS (Acanthaster planci) from the Great Barrier Reef, Australia and Okinawa, Japan. They also studied the proteins released into the seawater by starfish that were aggregating together. A variety of signalling factors and hydrolytic enzymes are highlighted, including an expanded and rapidly evolving set of starfish-specific ependymin-related proteins that could provide a focus for future biocontrol strategies.
This genome-informed approach has the potential to be widely applied in the marine environment, and used to identify factors that target and influence the behaviour, development and physiology of marine pests. These data will also help inform studies into the causes of COTS outbreaks, contributing to the regional-scale management of this coral reef pest.