Human-induced Stressors on Cold-water corals
I am currently researching the effects of multiple stressors on cold-water corals. The two categories of stressors I am addressing are climate change related factors (increasing temperature and decreasing pH) and hydrocarbon influence (oil and chemical dispersants). While there are numerous studies highlighting the variable effects of climate change and oil and chemical dispersant exposure on marine organisms independently, there are very few studies focusing on the cumulative effects of both climate change and oil/dispersant pollution together. A series of experiments will be conducted exposing Lophelia pertusa (a prominent reef-building cold-water coral) to sublethal chemical exposures of oil and dispersant under different pH and temperature treatments. This multi-stressor experiment will allow us to observe the effect of chemical exposure on the ability of cold-water corals to persist under climate change conditions, as well as tease apart the genomic level responses of individual stressors.
Transcriptomics and bioinformatics
When an organism is exposed to an environmental stressor an initial response is the alteration of gene expression levels and the synthesis of proteins that drive homeostatic physiology. Sub-lethal, chronic effects may include shifts away from normal homeostasis at the molecular and cellular levels that are difficult to observe, yet may be indicative of pathophysiological effects. Most previous studies on cold-water corals have focused on organismal-level physiological responses, with very few investigating the underlying molecular mechanisms. However, in one other cold-water coral, Desmophyllum dianthus, up regulation in genes of interest when exposed to decreased pH has been observed, but without significant differences in calcification and respiration rates. The continued development of cutting-edge techniques to examine the coral transcriptome will allow us to identify genes and pathways that are actively regulated in response to stressors, which will improve our capacity to detect these stressors in the environment.
Identifying genes that are actively over or under expressed in the response to environmental stressors will allow for the development of a suite of biomarkers that reflects cold-water coral health and provides an effective method for monitoring the state of cold-water coral reefs exposed to both changing climate change conditions and oil spills, even when there is no visual impact.
In addition to research, I believe it is our job as scientists to engage the public. This can be accomplished in many ways; from formal education, to judging a science fair, to social media. I truly believe there is no better way to ensure the future of our blue planet than by instilling a sense of awe and responsibility in our citizens, both young and old.
I have been involved with various forms of outreach through the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco State University, Mission Blue, ECOGIG, and Temple University. For further details please see my CV.