Where are you from, and what is your role in Extreme 2004?
am a graduate student in the lab of Dr. K. Eric Wommack at
the University of Delaware. This will be the second time I
have participated in an Extreme hydrothermal vent cruise. During
the 2001 Extreme cruise, before I began graduate school, I
worked on a different project and was responsible for sequencing
the DNA of the bacterial symbiont of the hydrothermal tube
pachyptila). It was on that cruise that I met Dr. Wommack and
decided to go to the University of Delaware for graduate school.
During the 2004 cruise, I will be working closely with the postdoctoral
researcher in our lab, Shannon Williamson, to study viruses that
are found naturally in hydro-thermal vent environments. We will be
investigating the viral communities that inhabit diffuse-flow hydrothermal
vent fluid and the interactions that exist between viruses and host
cells in hydrothermal environments.
What questions are you trying to answer and why?
There are several questions that I plan to address regarding hydrothermal vent viral communities including (1) Do vent viral communities differ from viral communities indigenous to other (less extreme) marine environments; morphologically, genetically, or both? (2) Is viral infection an important mechanism of bacterial mortality in hydrothermal vent environments, and (3) Is lysogeny (a type of virus-host interaction whereby a stable coexistence is established between the virus and host cell upon integration of the viral genome into the genetic material of the host) an important alternative to lytic infection in vent environments?
Why is this research important? What are the benefits?
It is now known that viruses are the most abundant organisms in the marine environment as a whole, outnumbering all other forms of life by at least an order of magnitude. Viruses are believed to play a critical role in shaping marine microbial ecosystems by influencing bacterial production and diversity, ultimately impacting the flow of carbon and other nutrients in the marine environment. Viruses that enter into lytic and lysogenic interactions with host cells have the potential to influence microbial communities by mediating the transfer of genes from one host cell to another by a mechanism called transduction. Additionally, the establishment of a lysogenic interaction between a virus and host cell is known to impart many benefits to the host through the expression of virus-encoded genes (conversion) such as increased cellular fitness, homoimmunity (the resistance to infection by similar strains of viruses), antibiotic resistance, and toxin production. Therefore, it's also possible that viruses may enhance the survival of their hosts in hostile, extreme environments either through gene transfer or conversion.
What's your background and what lured you into marine science/education?
of my early education was received in southern California public
schools through attending community college at LA Pierce College.
I transferred to UC Davis in northern California to complete
my bachelor's degree in genetics. Throughout my education,
one of my largest concerns was the health of our planet and
the incredible damage that has been done over the last few
hundred years to many of Earth's ecosystems. Because the majority
(over two-thirds) of the planet is covered with water, the
oceans are critical as global environmental regulators. That
is what inspired me to become involved in marine research.
I am convinced that the hope of reversing the negative direction
in which our planet is headed lies in the marine realm. At
the very bottom of marine food webs are the single-celled microbes
that are responsible for feeding all of the larger organisms
in the oceans. More importantly, these microbes are also responsible
for the majority of biochemical interactions that occur at
the boundaries of oceans with land and air. This includes critical
reactions such as converting atmospheric CO2 into sugars through
photosynthesis, thereby lowering the global amount of this
greenhouse gas. Also, it is primarily microbes that are capable
of breaking down crude oil and other toxic substances, such
as pesticides, into less harmful forms. These are some of the
reasons that I chose to study marine microbes. Even though
marine mammals and fish are much more charismatic, it's the
microbes that are really running the ecosystem. While this
is obvious to researchers now, the importance of bacteria in
the oceans is a relatively recent discovery (in the last 25
years!). Because of this, the microbial community is also one
of the least understood areas in marine science and, therefore,
one of the most exciting areas of research, with new discoveries
being published nearly every month.