Dr. Robert Drew: Research in clownfish genetics

Dr. Robert Drew utilizes newly developed genomic technologies to investigate the genes of clownfish.

Biology professor

Dr. Robert Drew is an associate professor in the Biology Department in the College of Arts & Sciences. He earned his PhD in Biology at Washington State University in 2006, joined UMass Dartmouth in 2009, and has been studying behavioral and physiological adaptions in fish for almost 15 years. Most recently, he’s been studying the mysterious physiological relationship between sea anemones and clownfish.

By utilizing newly developed genomic technologies to investigate the genes of clownfish, Drew searches for answers as to why the clownfish seem invisible and are unharmed by the sea anemone stinging tentacles. Previous research has uncovered that the clownfish protection involves a mucous coat, but understanding the uniqueness of clownfish mucous requires further investigation.

National Science CAREER Award

In 2017, he was awarded the very prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award, which provided $849,863 over five years to fund his work on clownfish and the mutually beneficial relationship with the sea anemone. The award recognizes young, on-the-rise faculty members within their respective fields of education and research. 

“I’ve been interested in this relationship since I was an undergraduate and now, with access to new
technology, we can begin to find answers to a mystery that has persisted, despite more than 50 years of research,” said Drew.

“One of the great things about UMass Dartmouth is that I can integrate my research with my teaching,” he said.

“I have designed a semester-long teaching lab for my Genetics course in which each student investigates a different gene from anemone fish and, in the process, the student learns about different techniques commonly used in genetic research.”

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College of Arts and Sciences, Biology Dept, Faculty, Features, Research