The crown-of-thorns starfish genome as a guide for biocontrol of this coral reef pest

Nature. 2017 Apr 5;544(7649):231-234. doi: 10.1038/nature22033.


The crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS, the Acanthaster planci species group) is a highly fecund predator of reef-building corals throughout the Indo-Pacific region. COTS population outbreaks cause substantial loss of coral cover, diminishing the integrity and resilience of reef ecosystems. Here we sequenced genomes of COTS from the Great Barrier Reef, Australia and Okinawa, Japan to identify gene products that underlie species-specific communication and could potentially be used in biocontrol strategies. We focused on water-borne chemical plumes released from aggregating COTS, which make the normally sedentary starfish become highly active. Peptide sequences detected in these plumes by mass spectrometry are encoded in the COTS genome and expressed in external tissues. The exoproteome released by aggregating COTS consists largely of signalling factors and hydrolytic enzymes, and includes an expanded and rapidly evolving set of starfish-specific ependymin-related proteins. These secreted proteins may be detected by members of a large family of olfactory-receptor-like G-protein-coupled receptors that are expressed externally, sometimes in a sex-specific manner. This study provides insights into COTS-specific communication that may guide the generation of peptide mimetics for use on reefs with COTS outbreaks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthozoa / parasitology
  • Australia
  • Biomimetics
  • Coral Reefs*
  • Female
  • Genome / genetics*
  • Indian Ocean
  • Japan
  • Male
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / chemistry
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism
  • Pacific Ocean
  • Pest Control, Biological*
  • Proteome / analysis
  • Proteome / metabolism
  • Sex Factors
  • Species Specificity
  • Starfish / anatomy & histology
  • Starfish / chemistry
  • Starfish / enzymology
  • Starfish / genetics*
  • Transcriptome


  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Proteome
  • ependymins