Research Experiences for Undergraduates in Integrative Marine Biology Summer 2016 Faculty

Faculty Mentors and Potential Student Projects

Diego Bernal, PhD 
Physiological adaptations of high performance fishes and capture-induced stress responses

This lab utilizes molecular tools to measure the presence of irreversible cell damage in highly-stressed fishes and study how stress may relate to post-release survival and physiological recovery. We test the hypothesis that critical physiological disruptions caused by angling-related stress may cause irreversible cell damage, potentially resulting in fish death up to 30 days post-release. Our research correlates details of the capture method (e.g., fight time, tackle, size of fish) with specific levels of molecular-physiological indicators of capture stress to determine how changes in capture techniques may minimize such physiological disruptions. Potential research questions for undergraduate students include: Are blood plasma electrolyte and metabolite levels in capture-stressed sharks species-specific? Does an increase in capture stress induce stress-protein expression? Is the stress response similar in whole animal and in vitro blood incubations?

Steven X. Cadrin, PhD 
Marine fisheries, focusing on population dynamics and fishery management

The Cadrin lab focuses on marine biological research on reproductive biology, age validation, and stock identification of a wide range of invertebrate and finfish species to advance stock assessment methods and develop harvest strategies for regional, national and international fishery resources. The lab also evaluates geographic stock structure and models spatially complex populations. Potential research projects for undergraduate students will involve population modeling, stock identification, fisheries management, and application of advanced technologies for fishery science.

Robert E. Drew, PhD
Fish genomics and quantitative genetics, and the evolution of fish adaptations

This lab is currently focused on close symbioses between fish and sea anemones, which have independently evolved in multiple fish clades, such as clownfish and cardinalfish. We are applying a combination of functional analyses and multiple “omics” approaches to 1) identify candidate mechanisms protecting symbiotic fish from attack from hosts, 2) investigate how these mechanisms independently evolved in multiple lineages, and 3) determine how the mechanisms may be regulated. Potential research questions for undergraduate students include: Is host nematocyst discharge inhibited by mucus isolated from symbiotic fish species? Does mucus composition differ between symbiotic fish species and closely related non-symbiotic species? Do symbiotic fish regulate the expression of candidate genes to suit different sea anemone species?

Whitney Hable, PhD
Molecular, cellular and developmental biology

Research in this lab focuses on understanding the mechanisms of cell polarization during growth and development of the intertidal marine rockweeds, Silvetia compressa and Fucus vesiculosus. We are particularly interested in understanding how chronic exposure to environmental contaminants affects these developmental processes. Potential research questions for undergraduate students include: What are the germination and growth rates of zygotes cultured in environmentally relevant concentrations of contaminants like heavy metals or crude oil? Do zygotes and embryos inhabiting contaminated sites acquire resistance, or become more sensitive to additional contaminant exposure, as compared to those who inhabit unpolluted areas?

Pingguo He, PhD
Fish physiology and behavior, focusing on the behavior of fish near fishing gear and its application in sustainable capture fisheries

Dr. He’s lab investigates the behavior of fishes as it relates to environmental and physical stimuli and anthropogenic activities such as fishing operations. The lab applies the knowledge of fish behavior to the design and operation of commercial and scientific survey gear to promote sustainable harvesting strategies and to assist in accurate and reliable stock assessment. Potential projects for undergraduate students include: How do fish assemblages in Buzzards Bay change during the day-night cycle?

Kathryn D. Kavanagh, PhD
Embryology, morphological development and evolution of vertebrates

The Kavanagh lab focuses on early life stages of vertebrates with special interest in musculoskeletal and sensory development and evolution. An aquarium facility with breeding reef fishes is available. Projects for undergraduates tend to be in two general areas 1) adaptation of coral reef fish larvae to climate change, and 2) evolution of skeletal patterning in tetrapod vertebrates. Potential research questions for undergraduate students include: Are museum specimens consistent with various models of evolution of segmentation? What are the effects of temperature on morphology, behavior, or development of damselfish larvae?

Pia H. Moisander, PhD
Marine microbial ecology

Research in the Moisander lab investigates distributions and activities of marine bacteria, specifically focusing on organisms contributing to important biogeochemical transformations in the marine nitrogen cycle. Recent research has been focusing on characterization of the copepod microbiome, bacterial associations in oysters, marine antifouling, and cyanobacterial blooms. Recent investigations have been conducted in the North Atlantic subtropical gyre and coastal waters of the North Atlantic, as well as the Charles River. Microbiological, molecular, and biogeochemical approaches are used in our field and laboratory based studies.

Nancy J. O’Connor, PhD
Marine invertebrate ecology, focusing on the biology of crabs

Research in this lab focuses on the ecological impacts of the invasion of the Asian shore crab Hemigrapsus sanguineus, especially the potential effects of the Asian shore crab on resident crab species and the incorporation of H. sanguineus into coastal food webs as both predator and prey. In addition, we investigate the importance of various chemical and physical habitat cues in triggering molting of planktonic crab larvae (megalopae) to the benthic crab stage. Potential research questions for undergraduate students include: What are settlement rates of crab megalopae in different potential habitats? How do chemical cues from bivalve molluscs affect molting rates of crab megalopae? What is the effect of 3-dimensional habitat space on crab density and size?

Kenneth Oliveira, PhD
Fish ecology, focusing on the biology of American eels

Research in this lab focuses on the ecology and management of American eels. Specific research areas include the use of artificial maturation and fertilization techniques to address ecological problems such as parental transfer of contaminants, comparison of life history traits (age & size at maturation, body composition and reproductive potential) of stocked vs. naturally occurring eels, and the role of environmental factors in sex determination. Potential research questions for undergraduate students are: Is sex determination in American eels a result of habitat stressors? Can lipid accumulation affect sex determination in American eels? and Do stress levels (as measured by baseline plasma cortisol levels) vary in populations with differing sex ratios?

Mark W. Silby, PhD
Microbial genetics, focusing on microbial interactions and adaptation

Research in Silby’s laboratory is focused on developing an understanding of how bacteria interact with their environments and with each other. We are investigating the mechanisms by which bacteria respond in situ to abiotic stress, asking how various soil bacteria interact resulting in novel emergent traits, and exploring marine systems for bacteria capable of interfering with bacteria chemical communications. The latter project is focused on expanding knowledge of microbial communities in marine environments and identifying metabolites from marine bacteria with potential to inhibit communication-mediated virulence of bacterial pathogens. Potential research projects for undergraduate students include: What anti-communication bacteria are present in marine environments? What genomic patterns are associated with interference with bacterial communication in marine bacteria? How do microbial communities vary across marine environments such as seaweed surfaces? What are the chemical mechanisms of anti-communication activity?