Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

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John Stegeman in his lab with postdoc Heather Handley Goldstone. Work in the lab centers on biochemistry and molecular biology of genes and proteins and their role in how organisms respond to foreign chemicals. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, WHOI Graphic Services)
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The Biology Department continued to expand into new research, even while preparations are underway for expansion into two new buildings on the Quissett Campus. Studies continued on whales, microbes, and a variety of organisms between. In pursuit of questions about organisms and their function in the seas, biologists employ a wide range of methods, from traditional sampling to isotope chemistry, molecular genetics to mathematical modeling. This year, we spotlight research into the lives of whole animals, focusing on research of two associate scientists who were awarded tenure in 2004. Both study the persistence and distribution of populations of marine animals, but in very different settings.

Carin Ashjian continued her work on planktonic ecosystems in polar seas, with a cruise to the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in summer, 2004. There she studied population dynamics and distribution of copepods, including rates of reproduction and population exchange between the two seas, as part of the Shelf-Basin Interaction project. She monitors copepods to help estimate how climate change may influence not only their abundance and dispersal, but also the structure of the entire Arctic Ocean ecosystem.

Simon Thorrold studies distribution of larval fish, particularly tropical reef fish. He has developed techniques of measuring small amounts of naturally occurring isotopes in fish ear bones that allow him to trace an adult back to its place of origin. Knowing how far fish travel from their spawning place allows him to estimate rates of dispersal, the degree of connection between isolated populations of a species, and the likelihood of success of marine protected areas in re-establishing populations in depleted areas.

Among the hundreds of projects, other work in the department included: a finding that bone lesions in adult sperm whales are linked to chronic decompression damage; discovery by mathematical modeling that marine protected areas enhance fish catches; and research on the biochemistry and ecology of deep sea organisms including corals on sea mounts and bacteria in deep sediments.

In April, the Woods Hole Center for Oceans and Human Health was established as a partnership between WHOI, the Marine Biological Laboratory, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, administered through WHOI with novel joint funding by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (a component of the National Institutes of Health), and the National Science Foundation. One of four such centers nationwide, the Woods Hole Center encompasses research on harmful marine species (e.g., algae that create “red tide” blooms) and human pathogens in coastal waters as influenced by physical and environmental factors as well as population dynamics and genetics, and also studies of possible pharmacologically useful marine biochemicals. The Center also funds small feasibility grants at the member institutions, which allow scientists to do initial research on a topic and determine whether to pursue it.

—John Stegeman (jstegeman@whoi.edu)
Department Chair

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