Earthworms, Leeches and Other Annelid Worms Focus of Research Project

Friday, September 3, 2010

Although they number more than 16,000 recognized species, there are great gaps in the knowledge of annelid worms, including their diversity and evolutionary history. To fill this need, a project recently funded by the National Science Foundation will assemble an annelid family tree using a large-scale, multi-tiered approach.

The grant of $291,892 to principal investigator Sam James, a research affiliate of the Biodiversity Insitute, and a team of international researchers will concentrate on using high-throughput DNA genome sequencing techniques to examine the oldest relationships among annelids. Recent relationships will be resolved with multi-gene DNA approaches and a community-based sequencing service that will examine approximately 3000 species.

As one of the few segmented phyla, annelids are integral to understanding animal evolution. Annelid worms exhibit immense morphological diversity and include such distinct groups as fireworms, earthworms, bloodworms, and leeches. As sediment feeders, scavengers, and predators, annelids occupy terrestrial and aquatic habitats worldwide and are the most abundant fauna (larger than 1 millimeter) in the deep sea, Earth's most extensive habitat. Annelids have economic importance as bait, pests, invasive species (e.g., oyster borers) and ecosystem engineers.

The project has significant interdisciplinary implications in fields such as developmental biology, paleontology, marine biology, physiology and evolution. Specimens, data, and educational resources will be publicly available. Extensive human resource development includes training more than 25 undergraduates, 5 graduate students and 4 postdoctoral researchers at four institutions, and recruitment of underrepresented groups. The grant will include K-12 outreach to foster broad scientific participation.

Grant Details:
Title: Wormnet II: Assembling the Annelid Tree of Life
Award: $291,892
Duration: 5 years
Co-PIs:  Ken Halanych, Auburn University; Damhnait McHugh, Colgate University; Frank Anderson, Southern Illinois University; Anja Schulze, Texas A&M University; Sam James, KU; Scott Santos, Auburn University; Torsten Struck, University of Osnabruck, Germany; Christer Erseus, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

News Type: 
Award Grant News