University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Echinoderms include familiar animals such as starfishes, sea urchins, and a wide array of extinct forms stretching back to the Cambrian Period, circa 500 million years ago. Echinoderms share a common ancestor with backboned animals and thus provide a crucial link to understanding a huge portion of the entire tree of life as well as the history of our species. This project, the Echinoderm Tree of Life Project, will resolve the phylogenetic placement of Echinoderms within the tree of life and clarify important unresolved relationships among major echinoderm lineages using data from genetic sequencing and anatomy. Echinoderms are fascinating, and their unique features, such as mutable ligaments and novel means of detecting light, have biomedical engineering applications. Because research on such marine animals and their adaptations is naturally attractive to young people, excellent students are expected to be recruited and the importance of science will be communicated to a broad audience. Long-term impacts, embodied by scientific publications, textbooks, anatomical and genomic data, and extensive pages in the Tree of Life and Encyclopedia of Life web projects, will provide resources to researchers and educators. Outreach will include videos and broadcasts about marine exploration and applications of fundamental biological research across the biomedical sciences.