Marine Omics and Technology Lab 

(Buerger Lab)

We explore the adaptation of aquatic organisms to new environments through the application of omics technologies, genetic solutions, assisted evolution, and comparative genomics. 

Our facilities include: a marine microalgae culture collection, access to high performance computers and usage of PC2 laboratories for molecular genomics research.

Microalgae genomics

There are several projects focused on understanding the underlying genetic mechanisms of enhanced thermal tolerance in symbiotic microalgae (Symbiodiniaceae). For example, we sequence chromosomal length genomes of close related microalgae that have different thermal tolerances using PacBio Revio long-reads and Hi-C. Now, we are developing computational pipelines to discover novel single nucleotide polymorphisms, genome rearrangements, splicing variants and overall functional differences between heat-evolved and wild-type microalgae strains.
We also work on connecting Symbiodiniaceae phenotypes to their genotypes by developing single-cell transcriptomics and single-cell phenotyping.

Collaboration with: Macquarie University, Australian Institute of Marine Science, CSIRO, Melbourne University, University of Queensland, University of Uppsala.

Hybrid coral genomics

We are investigating how we can improve the thermal tolerance of corals through assisted evolution. Interspecific hybridisation is a promising tool for coral reef restoration, because coral hybrids can exhibit enhanced fitness compared to purebred corals. However, the underpinning genetic basis for such an enhanced tolerance is currently unclear. Here, we develop chromosomal-length genomes for 10 coral F1 coral hybrids and determine the recombination events that have occurred in their sperm after meiosis. In this project, we will develop a computational pipeline with existing tools to analyse Hi-C and PacBio data for signatures of molecular mechanisms that promote coral fitness. The aim of the project is to predict thermal tolerance of future hybrid corals through genome sequencing and identification of key genetic signatures.

Collaboration with: Macquarie University, Australian Institute of Marine Science, University of Melbourne.  

Genetic engineering

Microalgae (Symbiodiniaceae) form a symbiosis with corals and determine their thermal tolerance to a large extend. This project is focused on genetic engineering to understand the underlying genomic mechanisms of enhanced thermal tolerance in Symbiodiniaceae. We are building genetic constructs for our target species and use biolistics to genetically transform Symbiodiniaceae, using fluorescence dyes to distinguish transient from non-transient cells and antibiotic resistance trials. We will then start to engineer the chloroplast and nucleus genome with different methods, including CRISPR/CAS9. The project includes also proteomics and transcriptomics for phenotypic characterisations. 

Collaboration with: Macquarie University, ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology. 

species hybridisation

The coral thermal tolerance depends on the physiology of associated single celled Symbiodiniaceae. In this project we explore the possibilities of protoplast fusions with different microalgae phenotypes. The aim is to combine phenotypes through intraspecific and interspecific somatic hybridisation in order to promote traits such as thermal tolerance and antioxidant capacity. We are optimising the generation of protoplasts and cell hybridisation. This project includes physiological measurements, genome sequencing, transcriptomics and further characterisation of the hybrid microalgae.

Collaboration with: Macquarie University, ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology.  

 If you have any interesting ideas or would like to get involved,
we look forward to collaborating with you. 


22. Scharfenstein H, Alvarez-Roa C, Peplow LM, Buerger P, Chan W, van Oppen MJH (2023). Chemical mutagenesis and thermal selection of coral photosymbionts induce adaptation to heat stress with trait trade-offs. Evolutionary Applications, doi: 10.1111/eva.13586.

21. Buerger P, Buler M, Yeap HL, Edwards OR, van Oppen MJH, Oakeshott JG (2023). Flow cytometry-based biomarker assay for in vitro identification of heat tolerance conferring coral symbionts. Frontiers in Marine Science, doi: 10.3389/fmars.2023.1094792.

20. Buerger P, Vanstone RT, Maire J, van Oppen MJ (2022). Long-term heat selection of the coral endosymbiont Cladocopium C1acro (Symbiodiniaceae) stabilizes associated bacterial communities. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 23(9):4913.

19. Tsang Min Ching SJ, Chan WY, Perez-Gonzalez A, Hillyer KE, Buerger P, van Oppen MJH (2022). Colonization and metabolite profiles of homologous, heterologous and experimentally evolved algal symbionts in the sea anemone Exaiptasia diaphana. ISME Communications. 30;2(1):1-0.

18. Maire J, Buerger P, Chan WY, Deore P, Dungan AM, Nitschke MR, van Oppen MJH (2022). Effects of ocean warming on the underexplored members of the coral microbiome. Integrative & Comparative Biology, icac005.

17. Scharfenstein H, Chan W, Buerger P, Humphrey C, van Oppen, MJH (2022). Evidence for de novo acquisition of microalgal symbionts by bleached adult corals, The ISME Journal, 16, pages 1676–1679, doi: 10.1038/s41396-022-01203-0.

16. Chan, WY, Oakeshott JG, Buerger P, Edwards OR, van Oppen MJH (2021). Adaptive responses of free‐living and symbiotic microalgae to simulated future ocean conditions. Global Change Biology, 29(7): 1737-1754.

15. Bessel-Browne P, Epstein H, Hall N, Buerger P, Berry KLE (2021). Severe heat stress resulted in high coral mortality on Maldivian Reefs following the 2015–2016 El Niño Event. Oceans, 2(1), 233-245.

14. van Oppen MJH, Buerger P (2021). Designer corals shine a bright light on the future of coral reefs, TheScience-Breaker, vol. 7, no. 1, doi:10.25250/thescbr.brk460.

13. Buerger P, Alvarez-Roa C, Pierce S, Coppin WC, Chakravarti LJ, Oakeshott JG, Edwards OR, van Oppen MJH (2020). Directed evolution of algal endosymbionts to enhance coral thermal tolerance. Science Advances, 6(20), eaba2498.

12. Buerger P, van Oppen MJH, Quigley KM, Chan W, Bay L, Edwards OR (2021). How genetic interven-tions can increase the resistance of corals to warming oceans, vol. 266, increase-the-resistance-of-corals-to-warming-oceans/

11. Chakravarti LJ, Buerger P, Levin RA, van Oppen MJH (2020). Gene regulation underpinning increased thermal tolerance in a laboratory-evolved coral photosymbiont. Molecular Ecology. 29(9):1684-1703.

10. Bay LK, Rocker M, Boström-Einarsson L, Babcock R, Buerger P, Cleves P, Harrison D, Negri A, Quigley K, Randall CJ, van Oppen MJH, Webster N (2019). Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program: Intervention Technical Summary. A report provided to the Australian Government by the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program (89pp).

9. Buerger P, Wood-Charlson EM, Weynberg KD, Sato Y, Willis B, van Oppen MJH (2019). Novel T4 bacteriophages associated with black band disease in corals. Environmental Microbiology. 21(6):1969-1979.

8. Buerger P, van Oppen MJH (2018). Viruses in corals: hidden drivers of coral bleaching and disease Microbiology Australia, 39(1) 9-12.

7. Montalvo Proano J, Buerger P, Weynberg KD, van Oppen MJH (2017). A PCR-based assay targeting the major capsid protein gene of a dinorna-Like ssRNA virus that infects coral photosymbionts. Frontiers in Microbiology (Virology). 8:1665.

6. Pollock JF, van de Water JAJM, Davies S, Katz SM, Hein M, Torda G, Matz MV, Beltran V, Buerger P, Puill-Stephan E, Abrego D, Bourne DG, Willis BL (2017). Coral larvae rearing for restoration and research. PeerJ. 5:e3732.

5. Buerger P, Wood-Charlson EM, Weynberg KD, Willis B, van Oppen MJH (2016). CRISPR-Cas Defense System and Potential Prophages in Cyanobacteria Associated with the Coral Black Band Disease. Frontiers in Microbiology. 7: 2077.

4. Buerger P, Alvarez-Roa C, Weynberg KD, Baekelandt S, Oppen MJH (2016) Genetic, morphological and growth characterisation of a new Roseofilum strain (Oscillatoriales, cyanobacteria) associated with coral black band disease. PeerJ. 4:e2110.

3. Weynberg KD, Voolstra CR, Neave MJ, Buerger P, van Oppen MJH (2015). From cholera to corals: Viruses as drivers of virulence in a major coral bacterial pathogen. Nature Scientific Reports. 5, 17889.

2. Buerger P, Schmidt GM, Wall M, Held C, Richter C (2015). Temperature tolerance of the coral Porites lutea exposed to simulated large amplitude internal waves (LAIW). Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology. 471, 232-239.

1. Lampert KP, Bürger P, Striewski S, Tollrian R (2011). Lack of association between color morphs of the Jellyfish Cassiopea andromeda and zooxanthella clade. Marine Ecology. doi: 10.1111/j.1439-0485.2011.00488.x