Rebecca Gast, John Stegeman, Mark Hahn, Stefan Sievert, Lauren Mullineaux, Ann Tarrant, John Waterbury, Peter Tyack, Don Anderson, Rob Olson, Judy Mcdowell, Matt Johnson
Molecular biology is an integrated and growing component of
the research programs in the Biology Department at the Woods
Hole Oceanographic Institution. Its powerful concepts and
tools hold great promise for rapidly increasing knowledge
of the phylogeny, biodiversity, ecology and population biology
of marine organisms, their symbiotic interactions, and their
biochemical, genetic and physiological adaptations to the
ocean environment. WHOI biologists and affiliated scientists
are using molecular approaches in coastal, open-ocean, deep-sea,
and laboratory-based studies to explore a diverse array of
biological oceanographic questions, ranging from the activities
of individual organisms to the complex relationships of populations,
communities and ecosystems.
Some of the areas where molecular approaches are being used
by Biology Department staff include:
Research in the laboratory of Rebecca Gast focuses on molecular
phylogeny using srRNA gene sequences and the development of
oligonucleotide probes for detection and identification of
protists. These techniques are currently being developed and
applied to Acanthamoeba and symbiotic algae in planktonic
protists. Future research interests include the continued
application of molecular biological techniques for the study
of protist biodiversity and the identification of genes involved
in the maintenance of symbiotic relationships between algae
and planktonic marine invertebrates.
The molecular mechanisms by which natural and man-made chemicals
interact with vertebrate and invertebrate marine animals are
being studied with biochemical, molecular and phylogenetic
approaches. Work in the laboratory of John Stegeman focuses
on the structure, function and regulation of cytochrome P450
enzymes and their role in cellular responses to chemical exposure.
Research in Mark Hahn's laboratory is examining the comparative
biochemistry and molecular biology of the aromatic hydrocarbon
receptor, which mediates the biological activity of chlorinated
Deep-sea and Hydrothermal Vent Bacteria
Carl Wirsen and Stefan Sievert's group is using a combination
of physiological and molecular approaches to study barophilic
and psychrophilic deep-sea bacteria and to examine the diversity
of microorganisms discovered at hydrothermal vents.
Larval Ecology and Dispersal
Research in Lauren Mullineaux's laboratory on organisms living
in the patchy and ephemeral environments of seamounts and
hydrothermal vents uses probes based on mitochondrial RNA
sequences to identify larvae and gain population-level information
about gene flow and geographic isolation.
Ecology of Marine Cyanobacteria and their Viruses
In the laboratory of John Waterbury, 23S rRNA sequence analysis
and probes are being used to examine speciation and population
ecology of cyanobacteria in the genus Synechococcus. The role
of viruses in controlling Synechococcus populations is being
examined with virus-specific antibodies.
Population Biology of Marine Mammals
Peter Tyack's group is using mitochondrial DNA sequences to
elucidate the stock structure of pilot whales, with future
studies planned for other species of toothed whales, including
some that may be threatened by fishing activities.
The laboratory of Judy McDowell studies a leukemia-like neoplastic
disease in soft-shell clams. Monoclonal antibodies specific
to a cell-surface protein on neoplastic hemocytes allow early
diagnosis of the disease, and a reverse transcriptase assay
is being developed to evaluate viral replication as a causative
Physiological Ecology of Phytoplankton
In the laboratory of Don Anderson, the dinoflagellates responsible for the harmful algal blooms known as "red tides" are being studied with immunological and nucleic acid-based molecular probes to detect the organisms and indicate their physiological status. Rob Olson's group is using flow cytometry and function-specific DNA-based probes to study the distribution and seasonal population cycling of marine prochlorophyte picoplankton and ultra-phytoplankton. In a collaborative effort between the labs of John Waterbury and Eric Webb, specific molecular markers defining iron and phosphorus limitation of the marine cyanobacterium Trichodesmium are being developed.
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