USC researchers help reveal deadly starfish secrets - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

Accessibility links

USC News

USC researchers help reveal deadly starfish secrets

6 Apr 2017

University of the Sunshine Coast research led by Associate Professor of Molecular Biology Scott Cummins has contributed to a breakthrough discovery that could protect the Great Barrier Reef from the coral-killing crown-of-thorns starfish.

Four USC researchers including Dr Cummins are co-authors of the paper, ‘Genome sequencing of the coral reef predator crown-of-thorns starfish’, newly-published in esteemed international journal, Nature. (http://www.nature.com/nature/index.html)

The painstaking process of sequencing the starfish’s genome (DNA set) and pheromones (chemicals released into the environment) was led by the University of Queensland in collaboration with USC, the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology.

Dr Cummins said it was the first time that researchers had clearly shown the marine pest responsible for mass destruction of live coral was interacting with its environment by detecting and responding to odours.

“The key role of odour in these starfish interactions is evident both in their aggregation and in their aversion to their predator, the Giant triton snail,” he said.

“This paper proves that technologies have come of age in understanding how important chemical communication is to Crown-of-thorns starfish, and likely for all organisms on a coral reef.

“It could inform new biocontrol strategies to potentially manage the pest by either attracting or dispersing them. This would in turn help protect delicate reef ecosystems and benefit tourism.”

Dr Cummins worked for three years on the project with USC colleagues Dr Tianfang Wang, Dr Min Zhao and Dr Utpal Bose (now at CSIRO) using funds from the Australian Government’s Caring for our Country Reef Rescue program provided to AIMS and USC.

“We conducted research at AIMS in Townsville and on USC campus at Sippy Downs, using the recently expanded laboratories and aquariums of USC’s Genecology research group,” Dr Cummins said.

“USC was involved in animal behaviour experiments that showed the starfish using their sense of smell to move towards an attractive odour or away from something averse. We also investigated proteins to identify what pheromones were released by the starfish.”

The research sequenced the genomes of crown-of-thorns starfish from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and reefs off Okinawa, Japan.

Dr Cummins’ USC research group, one of few in the world specialising in olfactory communication in aquatic animals, is continuing its crown-of-thorns research.

“The key pheromone we identified is actually made up of multiple different proteins and we need to know what each means. It’s like finding a new language but not knowing what all the words mean.”

— Julie Schomberg

USC Associate Professor Scott Cummins (nearest to starfish) with fellow researchers (clockwise from back left) Dr Utpal Bose, Dr Min Zhao and Dr Tianfang Wang.

Related articles

New placenta model offers insights into pregnancy complications
8 Nov

A USC researcher who has designed a novel 3D system that can mimic the cellular architecture of a human placenta has been awarded a Federal Ideas grant to continue her innovative research.

Brain tissue boosted after six-week treatment for chronic suicidality
2 Nov

Neuroscience researchers from USC Australia have found a link between low-dose ketamine treatment and increased grey matter volume in areas of the brain associated with depression and suicidality.

Robot lizards research wins 3MT competition
13 Oct

A PhD student developing bio-inspired robot lizards to better understand animal movement and apply the knowledge to the needs of industry has won the annual USC Three-Minute Thesis competition.

Contact the USC media team

Name Position Email Phone
Terry Walsh Manager, Media and Messaging twalsh@usc.edu.au +61 7 5430 1160
Clare McKay Media Relations Officer (Regional) cmckay@usc.edu.au +61 7 5456 5669

Search results for

Recent news