My research focuses on the study of the life cycle, population genetics and sexual expression of dinoflagellates and their parasites.
I am involved in a project in which we are identifying meiotic genes and genes responsible for the formation of zygotes in dinoflagellates. Additionally, the project aims to design a molecular marker to allow the identification of dinoflagellate zygotes in the national monitoring programs. Specifically, I am working with three species of the Alexandrium genus, known by producing toxic blooms in North Atlantic waters. Zygote identification, not possible nowadays due to the high morphological similarity between vegetative and sexual stages, is however crucial to evaluate and forecast where and when resistant cysts (of sexual nature, originated after zygote encystment) will be produced. Giving that the synchronous germination of resistant cyst deposits is a well-known factor behind the appearance of dinoflagellate blooms (so-called red tides), zygote identification will offer useful information for the management and forecasting of toxic blooms. Additionally, I would like to use these libraries to study environmental expression of sexual genes and identify pheromone-like compounds in these algae.
In a second project, I collaborate with Spanish and European partners to study the relevance of local adaptation and hybridization in eukaryotic marine parasites. Our model system is formed by two closely related dinoflagellate parasite species belonging to the Parvilucifera genus. One species was described in 1999 in Denmark, whereas the other one, quite recently in Mediterranean waters (Barcelona). There are several facts making this system interesting. First, our data point to the existence of parasite local adaptation in Mediterranean waters, because Atlantic algal genotypes are partially or totally resistant to the parasite infection. Second, earlier reports of this parasite were done using primers that fit both species; therefore, each species geographical extension is unknown. Given the lack of studies in marine eukaryotic parasites, we would like to study populations from the Atlantic and Mediterranean locations to clarify the extent of local adaptation, test reproductive isolation and determine the genetic population structure within the Parvilucifera species complex.
2011-2014: Improved mitigation and management strategies of toxic algal blooms using a molecular Biological approach. Founded by Formas
2011-2014: Ecological genetics of Harmful Algal Blooms: Identifying local adaptation, genetic structure and species boundaries in Marine Eukaryotic host-parasite systems"- Founded by Crafoord Foundation
Figueroa, R. I., Vázquez, J. A., Massanet, A., Murado, M. A. and Bravo, I. 2011. Interactive effects of salinity and temperature on planozygote and cyst formation on Alexandrium minutum (Dinophyceae). Journal of Phycology 47:13-24.
Figueroa, R.I., Garcés, E. 2010. Dinoflagellate Life Cycles. http://tolweb.org/articles/?article_id=5512 in The Tree of Life Web Project, http://tolweb.org/
Figueroa, R. I., Garces, E., Camp, J. 2010. Local adaptation and reproductive plasticity in an environmentally relevant host-parasite system. Harmful Algae 10 (1): 56-63.
Figueroa, R. I., Garcés, E., Bravo, I. 2010. The use of flow cytometry for species identification and life cycle studies in dinoflagellates. Deep Sea Research II 57:301-307.
Figueroa, R. I., Rengefors, K., Bensch, S. and Bravo, I. 2010. From homothally to heterothally: Mating preferences and genetic variation within clones of the dinoflagellate Gymnodinium catenatum. Deep Sea Reseach II 57: 190-8.
Figueroa, R. I., Bravo, I., Fraga, S., Garcés, E. and Llavería, G. 2009. The life history and cell cycle of Kryptoperidinium foliaceum, a dinoflagellate with two eukaryotic nuclei. Protist 160: 285-300.
Figueroa, R. I., Garcés, E., Massana, R., Camp, J. 2008. Description, host-specificity and strain selectivity of the dinoflagellate parasite Parvilucifera sinerae sp. nov. (Perkinsozoa). Protist 159:563-578.
Figueroa, R. I., Bravo, I., Ramilo, I., Pazos, Y., Moroño, A. 2008. New life cycle stages of Gymnodinium catenatum (Dinophyceae): Laboratory and field observations. Aquatic Microbial Ecology 52: 13-23.
Figueroa, R. I., Garcés, E., Bravo, I. 2007. Comparative study between the life cycles of Alexandrium tamutum and Alexandrium minutum (Gonyaulacales, Dinophyceae) in culture. Journal of Phycology 43(5):1039-1053.
Figueroa, R. I., Bravo, I., Garcés, E. 2006. The multiple routes of sexuality in Alexandrium tailori (Dinophyceae) in culture. Journal of Phycology 42: 1028-1039.
Figueroa, R. I., Rengefors, K., Bravo, I. 2006. Parental effects and meiosis on sexual offspring of Gymnodinium nolleri (Dinophyceae). Journal of Phycology 42(2):350-362.