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Research Areas

REU program mentors, summer 2018

Dr. John Bowden: Environmental omics

Dr. Marie DeLorenzo: Environmental toxicology

Dr. Heather Fullerton: Ecology of iron-oxidizing microbes

Dr. Tony Harold: Fish ecology and diversity

Dr. Michael Kendrick: Coastal crustacean food webs

Dr. Jennifer Lynch, Jennifer Trevillian, Jennifer Ness: Pre-analytical variables in sea turtle blood samples

Dr. Dan McGlinn: Patterns of biodiversity in marine fishes or plants

Dr. Craig Plante: Ecology of benthic microalgae

Dr. Bob Podolsky: Environmental stress on early life-history stages

Dr. Moshe Rhodes: Adaptation to hypersalinity 

Dr. Demitri Spyropolous: Molecular biology of obesogens and snail imposex

Mentor lab descriptions

Following are general descriptions of the work done in labs of mentors for this year’s program.  Specific intern projects will be worked out after selection and closer to the time of the program. Institutional and building abbreviations listed for each mentor are explained at the bottom of this page.

Dr. John Bowden (NIST/HML, john.bowden'at'

Environmental omics

Lipids present a unique target of disease state biomarkers, mainly due to the fact that they are ubiquitous and exhibit a variety of physiological roles. Lipidomics, or an examination of the lipidome using mass spectrometry, has been successfully applied for the discovery and increased understanding of human diet/nutrition, health, development, and disease etiology. Parallel to humans, several wildlife species have exhibited an increase in the occurrence of pathophysiological conditions, including cancers, altered metabolism, decreased fertility, inflammation, and impaired development. The work in our lab focuses on pursuing and adapting omics-based approaches commonly employed in human disease research, such as lipidomics and metabolomics, to assess environmental health, an arena in which these approaches have rarely been adapted. Efforts have been placed to develop and tailor analytical strategies (chromatography, mass spectrometry, data informatics) for the detection of novel disease state biomarkers and to apply the developed strategies to on-going environmental studies. The student would get “hands on” experience in an analytical and environmental chemistry laboratory, using state of the art instrumentation and measurement practices, as well as work with unique aquatic wildlife species (e.g., marine mammals, coral, fish, alligators, etc.).

Jack - Bowden Lab
                                                                REU intern Kady Palmer studying PFAAs in manatee plasma

Dr. Marie DeLorenzo (NOAA/CCEBHR, marie.delorenzo'at'

Bioeffects of chemical contaminants and other environmental stressors

Possible project: Effects of ultraviolet (UV) light on toxicity of surface oil slicks in early life stages of marine organisms

Background: One of the lingering questions after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is the toxicity of thin oil sheens to early life stages of aquatic species, and whether that toxicity may be magnified by interaction of hydrocarbon compounds with UV light. Previous studies have shown several polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) become more toxic in the presence of natural sunlight. UV-induced PAH toxicity occurs in a wide variety of organisms, and larval life-stages may be among the most sensitive.

Approach: The project this summer will be assessing the impact of UV light on toxicity of thin oil sheens to early life stages of marine species. We will be comparing oils sheen toxicity with and without UV-light exposure. We will determine acute mortality thresholds, as well as sublethal responses such as embryo hatching success and timing, larval development, and growth.  Cellular biomarkers, such as lipid peroxidase activity and cytochrome p450, will also be included.

field sampling

                                               REU intern Deanna Hausman studying the effects of oil and UV light on shrimp

Dr. Heather Fullerton (CofC, fullertonhe’at’

Ecology of iron-oxidizing microbes

The Fullerton lab focuses on the ecology and role of microbes in global biogeochemical cycles. Microbes have an enormous range of metabolic capacity, and as such they can have profound impacts on the ecosystem. Iron-oxidation has been extensively studied in freshwater and terrestrial environments, but only recently have marine iron-oxiders been described.  First described at deep-sea hydrothermal vents, these bacteria are now known from estuaries and from the corroding surfaces of steel ships. To better understand this novel group of bacteria, we explore marine environments and bring these organisms into the laboratory for analysis. The REU project will involve collecting microbes from coastal habitats and then learning and using a variety of molecular and microbial culturing techniques to further delineate the coastal habitat for marine-oxidizing bacteria.


                                                                    REU intern Jessie Lowry working on sediment microbes

Dr. Tony Harold (CofC/GML, harolda'at'

Fish ecology and diversity

We have been working in several areas, including evolutionary relationships, biodiversity discovery, and ecology of inshore fishes. Small benthic fishes such as gobies and blennies are very abundant and are likely to represent important trophic components of estuarine communities. However, little is known about their patterns of colonization with respect to the various benthic habitat types, such as oyster shell, indigenous and invasive algae, and various types of unconsolidated substrate. We will use various techniques to capture larval, postlarval and juvenile fishes, which will then be preserved, identified, staged, and measured. The relative importance of the various habitat types will be determined through use of several types of statistical analysis. The findings of this work will have a bearing on our understanding of the dynamics of estuarine food webs and management of habitats critical to the support of prey species.


                                                                        Students sampling the surf zone for juvenile fishes

Dr. Michael Kendrick (SCDNR/MRRI, kendrickm’at’

Coastal crustacean food webs

Climate-driven changes to patterns of river flow and sea level rise, in addition to eutrophication and land-use change, can have important effects on the structure and function of tidal creek ecosystems. The SCDNR crustacean research and monitoring lab investigates how shifts in environmental conditions can influence population and trophic ecology of crustaceans, including commercially-important shrimp and blue crab. As anthropogenic activates continue to stress coastal environments, ecosystem-based strategy for managing coastal crustaceans will become increasingly important, requiring better understanding of food web responses to anthropogenic stressors. Summer REU projects that facilitate a more integrative understanding of tidal creek food webs may include quantitative assessments of crustacean diets, feeding and growth trials under varying environmental conditions, or other projects related to food web and crustacean ecology.



                                                                         Student interns headed to collect field samples

Dr. Jennifer Lynch, Jennifer Trevillian, Jennifer Ness (NIST/HML, jen.trevillian’at’

Pre-analytical variables in sea turtle blood samples

Measurements of sea turtle health are critical to understanding the effects of stressors, such as disease and pollution.  NIST’s Marine Environmental Specimen Bank (Marine ESB) stores blood samples of live captured sea turtles as part of ongoing research and monitoring programs.  These cryogenically stored samples enable investigators to extend their research into the past and provide for future analyses.  The REU project has two main objectives.  First, banked blood samples from healthy vs. diseased (debilitated “barnacle bill” loggerheads and green turtles afflicted with fibropapillomatosis tumors) sea turtles were previously analyzed for concentrations of several plasma proteins and for gene expression.  The student will have access to these data for analysis as part of the project.  Second, these samples came from an invaluable set of sea turtle blood samples collected from 1998 to 2016, many of which are currently stored at -80oC but need to be processed for long-term, more secure storage in liquid nitrogen.  As part of processing some of these samples, the REU student will store portions at different temperatures to determine the effect of sample storage conditions on plasma protein stability and RNA integrity.  This project will help NIST to secure these valuable samples for future use and know with certainty the stability and quality of the samples used for the healthy vs. diseased studies.  


                                                                       REU intern Jack McAlhany analyzing lipid samples

Dr. Dan McGlinn (CofC, mcglinndj’at’

Patterns of biodiversity in marine fishes or plants

Understanding patterns of biodiversity is critical for designing and managing ecosystems during a time of unprecedented environmental change. In the McGlinn lab, we use field surveys and eco-informatics to address questions about changes in biodiversity in diverse systems. Two potential projects for this summer: (1) Temporal change in Atlantic fish communities.  Globally fisheries are under threat from a wide range of stressors including over-exploitation and pollution. Our goal is to examine how Atlantic ocean fish communities have changed over the past 30 years using the Southeast Atlantic Monitoring and Assessment Program (SEAMAP) trawl surveys. We are finding that fish are actually increasing in number and size over time, but we do not know what is driving this increase in productivity or which species are responsible. The REU student would develop a project using the SEAMAP database to gain insight into the future trajectory of Atlantic fishes, gaining experience working with a large dataset, programming in R, and using statistics. (2) Resilience of coastal plant communities. Coastal communities are imperiled by sea level rise and overdevelopment, but are critical sources of biodiversity and of coastal resilience against storm surge effects. The goal of this project is to investigate how coastal fringe plant communities have changed over time. The REU student would resample plots that were sampled 9 years ago by the Carolina Vegetation Survey.  Any changes in plant communities are of special interest given the recent increase in large devastating storms in the Charleston area. The student would gain skills in GIS, plant identification, geo-referencing, statistics, and light programming.


                                                                            REU interns on Otter Island, South Carolina

Dr. Craig Plante (CofC/GML, plante'at'

Ecology of benthic microalgae

The research focus of the Plante lab is marine microbial ecology.  Current projects include study of the biogeography and community assembly of benthic microalgae, disturbance and resilience of microalgae to beach renourishments, and sea turtle nest microbiology.

Methodologies commonly employed include field sampling and/or experimentation (on beaches, sand- or mud-flats), microbial culture techniques, molecular biological methods for microbial community analysis, and the bioinformatics pipeline Qiime.  Typically the lab consists of the Dr. Plante, one graduate student, 2-3 undergraduate student researchers, and a part-time technician.


                                                                    REU intern Christine Hart sampling benthic diatoms               

Dr. Bob Podolsky (CofC/GML, podolskyr'at'

Environmental biology and ecology of early life stages of marine invertebrates

My laboratory asks questions about the effects of environmental conditions and stressors on early life-history stages (gametes, embryos and larvae) of marine invertebrates.  Invertebrates show enormous diversity in larval form and development mode, and their larvae play critical roles in marine food webs and the coupling of benthic and pelagic habitats.  In order to assess risks for early stages, it is critical to understand which life-history stages are most sensitive to environmental stressors.   We typically use echinoderm (sea urchin or sand dollar) gametes and larvae or mollusc (snail or nudibranch) embryos to address questions about free-swimming or encapsulated development, respectively.  Recent REU projects in my lab have focused on the effects of ocean acidification, warming, and environmental pollutants on fertilization success, larval growth and development, larval physiology, and encapsulated embryonic growth and shell formation.  This summer’s effort will follow-up on the findings of one of these recent projects.

Emily - Podolsky lab 

                                                             REU intern Emily Hall rearing sea urchin larvae in the laboratory

Dr. Moshe Rhodes (CofC, rhodesme’at’

Adaptation to hypersalinity

Halophiles are organisms that thrive in environments that are extremely saline, often greater than ten times more saline than Earth’s oceans. Examples include the Great Salt Lake and the Dead Sea. In order to survive in such harsh conditions, many halophilic microorganisms will alter the inner workings of their cells. Such adaptations include an increased usage of amino acids with acidic residues and a decreased usage of amino acids with basic residues. My lab focuses on the evolutionary pathways that enable halophiles to adapt to their surroundings. REU students in my lab will be involved with culturing halophilic isolates, establishing a hypersaline mesocosm, and using a variety of molecular techniques to investigate genomic and transcriptomic adaptations to hypersalinity.



                                                                       Dr. Moshe Rhodes attending to a hypersaline pool

Dr. Demitri Spyropolous (MUSC/HML, spyropdd'at'

Molecular biology of obesogens and snail imposex

Our lab’s focus is on environmental exposure to ‘obesogens,’ which include natural and anthropogenic compounds that disrupt metabolism and cell-fate decisions.  These changes lead to metabolic conditions (in some cases related to obesity) in vertebrates and to imposex (female-to-male conversion) in gastropods. Massive increases in the industrial production and use of chemicals closely parallel these health issues. For example, we have found two obesogens in COREXIT, an oil dispersant used in the clean-up of the Deep Water Horizon oil spill.  Our sentinel models range from rodents to marine vertebrates and salt marsh snails; work this summer will focus on snails.  Our preliminary field studies have verified that known contaminated sites show snail imposex. The REU project would involve field work to measure imposex rates and to collect environmental samples, and laboratory analysis of gene expression.  We aim to provide methods to test novel dispersants, food additives, etc. to investigate sublethal long-term influences on organismal and ecological health.

Melissa - Spyropolous lab

                                                          REU intern Melissa Rex studying the effects of endocrine disruptors



CofC = College of Charleston (housed in part at GML = Grice Marine Lab)

MUSC = Medical University of South Carolina

NIST = National Institute of Standards and Technology

NOAA = National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (housed in part at CCEHBR = Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research)

SCDNR = Department of Natural Resources (housed in part at MRRI = Marine Resources Research Institute)

HML = Hollings Marine Lab (houses members of all 5 partner institutions)