The DIsCO project, Diatom life cycles, molecular controls and contribution to ecosystem dynamics, is part of the Marine Microbial Initiative promoted by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.
In this highly multidisciplinary project, laboratory approaches, studies at sea and modelling approaches are combined to answer various questions related to the life cycle of the diatom Pseudo-nitzschia multistriata. In particular we aim to i) understand the endogenous mechanisms that control the diatom life cycle (what are the signal transduction mechanisms? What are the gene networks involved? Is there an epigenetic control in the transitions between the life cycle phases?); ii) follow the natural populations at sea through population genomics, in order to understand the genetic structure but also the dynamics of genome evolution; iii) estimate how much the genetic diversification processes are guided by environmental factors, how much genetic diversity is the result of the neutral interaction between cell division, genetic mutation and recombination, and what is the expected effect of environmental perturbations on rates of division, mutation and recombination.
The project foresees the development and application of technologies that are innovative for phytoplankton, including the ATAC-seq method for epigenetic studies, the CRISPR/Cas9 technology for the study of gene function, and single-cell transcriptomics for the analysis of the different sexual stages.
The possibility of formulating hypotheses in the laboratory and verifying them with data obtained at sea, and vice versa, and the synthesis envisaged through modelling give this project a highly innovative connotation.
Projects outputs will be an increased knowledge on the microscopic component of marine ecosystems, improved understanding of genome evolution dynamics and of the evolutionary consequences of the process of sexual reproduction in a marine unicellular organism.

What we do

The SZN is involved in all project activities. To address the different questions, part of the study is carried out by laboratory experimentation with advanced functional genomics techniques, part involves sampling at the the long-term LTER-MareChiara series site in the Gulf of Naples and in other Mediterranean sites, and a third part involves the application of modeling approaches. High-throughput sequencing methods and advanced bioinformatics analyses are applied for different aspects of the project.


Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn, Napoli, Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati (SISSA), Trieste.

Research Area

Functional Genomics, Genome Evolution, Population genetics, Modelling

Project Lifetime

December 2018 - November 2021

SZN Role


Principal Investigator

Mariella Ferrante

Project Leader

Mariella Ferrante

Funding Institution

The Marine Microbiology Initiative funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (USA)

Dedicated website

Under construction

Personnel involved

Mariella Ferrante, Principal investigator

Marina Montresor, Senior Researcher
Daniele Iudicone, Senior Researcher
Domenico D’Alelio, Researcher
Rossella Annunziata, Researcher
Francesco Manfellotto, Post-doc
Pina Marotta, Post-doc
Maria Valeria Ruggiero, Post-doc
Monia Teresa Russo, Technician
Pasquale De Luca, Senior Technologist
Elio Biffali, Senior Technologist
Gabriele Procaccini, Research Director

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