Blog Post

Two New Sponge Genomes

New genome papers are out for Glass Sponges (Hexactinellida)!! This group of sponges is known for their unique silicate skeletal elements and deep-sea reefbuilding activities. Oopsacas minuta has a genome surprisingly devoid of metazoan core genes, while Aphrocallistes vastus is an important deep-sea reefbuilding species.

Oopsacas minuta

Santini S, Schenkelaars Q, Jourda C, Duchesne M, Belahbib H, Rocher C, Selva M, Riesgo A, Vervoort M, Leys SP, Kodjabachian L, Le Bivic A, Borchiellini C, Claverie JM, Renard E. The compact genome of the sponge Oopsacas minuta (Hexactinellida) is lacking key metazoan core genes. BMC Biol. 2023 Jun 19;21(1):139. doi: 10.1186/s12915-023-01619-w. PMID: 37337252; PMCID: PMC10280926.

Aphrocallistes vastus

Francis WR, Eitel M, Vargas S, Garcia-Escudero CA, Conci N, Deister F, Mah JL, Guiglielmoni N, Krebs S, Blum H, Leys SP, Wörheide G. The genome of the reef-building glass sponge Aphrocallistes vastus provides insights into silica biomineralization. R Soc Open Sci. 2023 Jun 21;10(6):230423. doi: 10.1098/rsos.230423. PMID: 37351491; PMCID: PMC10282587.


GIGA officially a 501(c)(3) non-profit.

As of March 2022, GIGA operates as a 501(c)(3) organization. Contributions are 100% tax deductible under the law, and go to fund GIGA community efforts for research, education, and outreach in invertebrate genomics.

Donations can be made via PayPal:

Blog Post

GIGA fellowship recipient Kate Castellano on her research and career

By Dr. Kate Castellano

Growing up on the coast of Connecticut, I have always been fascinated by the ocean and the many organisms that live below the surf. It wasn’t until I met a marine scientist on a trip to Belize that I became aware of marine research as a career possibility.

This discovery led me to the University of New England, where I earned my bachelor’s degree in Marine Science and began working in a research lab. There, I learned more about genetics and its utility in understanding species biology, adaption to extreme or changing environments and ability to aid conservation efforts.

After college, I wanted to build my genetic laboratory skills so before entering graduate school, I worked as a research associate at Yale University studying early development in zebrafish. With the goal of creating and utilizing genetic and genomic tools for understudied marine non-model organisms, I pursued a PhD at the University of Connecticut. My work, and recently defended PhD thesis, focused on two species of tunicates, Salpa thompsoni and Salpa aspera, that are experiencing rapid population explosions due to warming oceans which required the development of genomic tools.

Kate in the lab with sea urchins in aquaria.

During my PhD, I received the first GIGA fellowship in Invertebrate Genomics which supported the genome assemblies of S. thompsoni and S. aspera and in turn revealed new genomic architecture important for gene regulation. The work I have done with GIGA’s support extends beyond the genomes of S. thompsoni and S. aspera becoming part of our genome workflow for other understudied marine species. This is important because genomic tools are still lacking for most marine organisms, making it difficult to truly understand their biology.

Currently, I am a Postdoctoral Scientist at the Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute where my research interests have also expanded to human health, focusing on understanding aging and longevity in the long-lived red sea urchin.

In addition, I am further developing sea urchins as a model and creating tools for functional genomics. My ultimate goal is to develop methods and pipelines for myself and others to establish more marine organisms as models through the creation of high quality genomic, transcriptomic and functional genomic tools to answer questions about basic biological functions, genome dynamics, adaptation and human health.


GIGA Board Elections Results

GIGA congratulates newly elected board members, and sends a deep thank you for retiring members.

Rotating positions include President, Executive VP for Conferences, Executive VP for Early Career Development, Executive VP for Development and Fundraising, and Student Representative.

GIGA thanks outgoing governing board (GB) members for their service to the Alliance (Joe Lopez, Heather Bracken-Grissom, Jean-François Flot, and Monica Medina).

Special thanks to Past President Joe Lopez for his dedicated leadership of the society!! Thanks to all nominees for their willingness to serve the community, and warm welcome the new GIGA Governing Board members:

PresidentTodd Oakley, University of California Santa Barbara

Executive Vice-President for ConferencesVanessa González, Smithsonian Institution

Executive Vice-President for Early Career DevelopmentMaria Carmen Ablan Lagman, De La Salle University

Executive Vice-President for Development and Fundraising Joe Lopez, Nova Southeastern University

Student RepresentativeKate Castellano, The Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute

The current Secretary (Kevin Kocot), Treasurer (Gonzalo Giribet), and Communications Director (Fabrizio Ghiselli) will continue their terms until the October 2023 election, according to the GIGA bylaws.


GIGA IV – 4th International Meeting. Nov. 16-18, 2021

Fourth international meeting of the Global Invertebrate Genomics Alliance.

Registration will be open soon:


Call for GIGA Officer Nominations

CALL FOR NOMINATIONS. The Global Invertebrate Genomics Alliance (GIGA) is seeking nominations for 5 officers of the GIGA Governing Board from its membership. Nominations of other members and self-nominations are encouraged. These officers will serve two-year terms beginning at the end of November 2021. The future and advancement of the society depend on its member’s participation, so please consider serving. The Governing Board generally meets quarterly, and frequently corresponds by email. The following positions are open:

President – The President will have the authority to negotiate collaborations and agreements, and then report back to the Governing Board and the Community of Scientists (COS) for full consensus. The President can sign formal agreements and contracts approved by the GB and/or the COS. Regular GIGA conferences will likely be led by local organizing committees, but the President can assist in planning the regular GIGA conference, along with the Retiring President and Conference Vice-President.

Executive Vice-President for Conferences – In consultation with the President, shall be responsible for the administration, fundraising for, and operation of, the Community of Scientists in accordance with the existing constitution, bylaws, and policies.

Executive Vice-President for Development and Fundraising – Will make efforts to raise funds for the GIGA mission, and direct donations to the GIGA donor account.

Executive Vice-President for Early Career Development – Shall develop and establish educational opportunities to train students and early career scientists, relevant to the mission of GIGA.

Student Representative – Will serve as a liaison to the student communities related to GIGA. The GIGA By-Laws are at…/10/GIGAConstitution2020.pdf

Please send your nominations to by Friday, October 22nd, 2021. If nominating other members, please copy them on your nomination e-mail. Currently serving officers may be nominated. Each self-nomination or accepted nomination should include a short biographical sketch of the nominee and a vision statement (up to 1 page) for the respective position.


Congrats to GIGA fellowship awardee Aabha Deshpande

Congratulations to Aabha Deshpande for being selected as finalist for the 2021 GIGA Invertebrate Genomics Graduate Fellowship. She will utilize funds towards her research investigating the genome sequence of the sponge Cinachyrella, in the laboratory of Dr. Jean Francois Flot.


Congrats to GIGA Fellowship 2020 Awardee Kate Castellano

On behalf of the Global Invertebrate Genomics Alliance (GIGA) we are very excited to announce that Kate Castellano has received the inaugural GIGA Fellowship in Invertebrate Genomics 2020 award. 

GIGA is dedicated to promoting resources and standards that will facilitate comparative approaches and collaborations for future generations. 

Kate Castellano winner of GIGA’s 2020 Invertebrate Genomics Fellowship

With these objectives in mind, we are excited to see Kate’s research that investigates reproductive life history of salps, a group that is in need for expanded genomic resources. 

We were impressed by her research statement, thoughtful budget and her desire to train future generations in invertebrate -OMICS research. We look forward to hearing about Kate’s successes!

GIGA received many fantastic applications for this award. We acknowledge honorable mentions for outstanding proposals to the following applicants:

  • Birdie Alexander-Lawrie
  • Erika Gress
  • Nickellaus Roberts
  • Amy Burgess