Professor Nancy Targett, associate dean of the University of Delaware Graduate College of Marine Studies, has been appointed to the Ocean Studies Board of the National Research Council. The board’s role is to advise the federal government on issues of ocean science, engineering, and policy. Its membership includes 22 of the nation’s top marine scientists and engineers.
A primary responsibility of the board is to conduct ocean studies of critical importance to the United States. In recent years, the board has investigated such topics as the status of marine and coastal environments, the ocean’s role in the global climate system, ocean-related aspects of national security, marine technology and infrastructure needs, fisheries science, and marine education.
“I was very honored to receive the appointment,” said Targett. “It’s a unique opportunity to work with a multidisciplinary group of experts at the national level to determine the science, policies, and infrastructure needed to understand and protect marine environments and resources. We will be making recommendations for solutions to ocean issues that are important to our national interests,” she noted.
Targett, who is a marine biochemist, joined the UD faculty in 1984 and is based at the Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes. She conducts research on how chemistry mediates interactions between marine organisms in habitats ranging from coral reefs to the Delaware Bay.
At coral reefs in the Bahamas, she and her students discovered that tropical brown algae contain a class of bad-tasting chemicals called phlorotannins, which can help protect the algae from being eaten by fish. In further research, she and her team have shown that high levels of nutrients in the water trigger the algae to put their energy into growing versus generating chemicals to defend themselves. While this behavior may aid plant-eating fish, it can spell disaster for corals, which can be choked out by the algae.
In the Delaware Bay, Targett has been working to develop an artificial bait to relieve fishing pressure on the horseshoe crab, which is used as bait in the eel and conch fisheries. The crab’s welfare is critical to the bay’s ecology and to human medicine, where a compound in the crab’s blood is used to test drugs and prosthetics for bacterial contamination. Targett and her students have isolated the chemical compound in the female crab that attracts eels and conch. She and her team are now working to incorporate the attractant into an inexpensive bait.
Targett also has a strong commitment to public service. In 1999, she was selected for the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program, an innovative program sponsored by the Ecological Society of America, which seeks to bridge the gap between public perception of environmental issues and scientific fact by training scientists to communicate with the public. Last year, she completed six years of service as a federal appointee to the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council, which oversees fisheries from New York to Virginia.
She is a lifetime member of the International Society of Chemical Ecology, the associate editor of the Journal of Chemical Ecology, and on the editorial board of the journal Biofouling. She received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry and biology from the University of Pittsburgh, her master’s degree in marine science from the University of Miami, and her doctorate in oceanography from the University of Maine.
Targett resides in Lewes with her husband, Tim, and their daughter Katharine.