Note: For summer 2021, we are planning in-person research experiences. However, these decisions are based on local safety and health regulations due to COVID-19. If necessary, this site may convert to a remote program or be canceled entirely.


About REGS:

  • Application deadline: April 15.
  • Eligibility: Participants must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents and currently enrolled in a graduate degree program (full-time or part-time) leading to a master's or Ph.D. degree.
  • Participants receive a $10,000 stipend throughout the duration of the program.
  • Mote’s Research Experience for Graduate Students has funded two graduate research internship positions annually since 2019.  

Two positions are available for summer 2021 in the following research areas:

Option 1: Forensic DNA with Rhino Rays

Project title: Developing forensic DNA tools to deploy along the world’s largest dried fin supply chain to combat illegal trade of critically endangered rhino rays: giant guitarfish and wedgefish.

Project objective: To design, optimize and validate a real time PCR test that is field-ready for border control personnel to deploy in Indonesia and China to detect illegal trade of rhino ray fins.

Project methods & graduate student role: This project will consist of three steps: (1) design a PCR primer set that will putatively amplify all rhino rays to the exclusion of all other species, (2) test and optimize the primer set on tissue samples from multiple individuals of rhino rays from as many species as possible to validate it is reliable and diagnostic for these species, and (3) demonstrate that these primers never amplify non-rhino ray species in the fin trade (i.e., sharks). Step 1 is completed and the graduate student would be expected to conduct steps 2 and 3 in the laboratory following training.

Anticipated project outcomes: This project will result in one journal publication documenting these diagnostic primers and (potentially) a field-trial in Hong Kong or Indonesia. Journals that have accepted my articles of this nature in the past include Scientific Reports, Conservation Genetics, Biological Conservation and Animal Conservation. At minimum, the graduate student would be invited to be a co-author. More likely and if their performance warranted it, they would be offered lead authorship. The protocol developed in this project would be provided to border control personnel through funded implementation workshops in Hong Kong (facilitated by the Agriculture Fisheries and Conservation Department) and Indonesia (facilitated by the Wildlife Conservation Society) planned for late 2021/early 2022.

Option 2: Influence of harmful algal blooms

Project title: Influence of harmful algal blooms on abundances of human pathogenic Vibrio

Project plan:

Background: Human infections caused by pathogens within the genus Vibrio, termed vibriosis, have increased nearly 10-fold since 2010, resulting in nearly 2 million illnesses and 2,000 deaths since becoming a notifiable disease in 2007 [1]. As climate change is expected to increase the dominance of vibrios in the world’s oceans, the incidence of vibriosis is also expected to continually increase [2]. The two main vibrio pathogens in the United States, Vibrio parahaemolytics (Vp) and V. vulnificus (Vv), are correlated with temperature and salinity [3], but numerous confounding biotic and abiotic factors likely contribute to the presence and abundance of pathogenic Vp and Vv. Unfortunately, data regarding these relationships are scarce; therefore, risk assessments for vibriosis may be missing vital risk factors that contribute to human illnesses. One such contributor worth investigation is the effect of harmful algal blooms [4]. The potential relationships between heterotrophic bacteria, including Vibrio species, and phytoplankton are complex. Bacteria use organic compounds produced by phytoplankton during photosynthesis and death for growth [5], and bacterial abundances are positively correlated with algal concentrations during blooms. Although research efforts focus on these bacterial communities as sources of algicides, to date no one has investigated the impacts of harmful algal blooms on human pathogenic Vibrio. This data is vital for assessing the full human health implications of harmful algal blooms.

Methods:

  • Lab-based experiments: Bacterial cultures of Vv and Vp will be obtained from ATCC and maintained in pure culture. K. brevis cultures at MAP, originating from Mote’s Phytoplankton Ecology program, will continue to be maintained by the mentor and the graduate student. Small volume bioassays containing both Karenia and each Vibrio species in coculture will be performed as described by Bramucci et al. [6]. Briefly, liquid cultures of each pathogen will be grown to the stationary phase and K. brevis grown to early exponential phase using laboratory-determined growth curves. 48-well microtiter plates will be loaded with 12 replicate wells containing 1 mL of each of the following: Vv or Vp control, Karenia control, and 1:1 bacteria:algae. Bacterial counts will be monitored over time using selective and differential Vibrio media and microscopic total and viable cell counts. Karenia populations will be monitored using fluorometry and microscopic counts. T-tests will be used to determine statistical differences between Vibrio and Karenia populations in controls versus coculture on each day.
  • Natural environmental measurements: If a local red tide bloom occurs during the course of the research experience, water samples will be collected weekly for quantification (as described above) of Vibrio and Karenia. Regression analysis will be used to determine the relationship between Vibrio and Karenia abundances.

Expected outcomes: Results from this study will indicate whether human pathogens Vv and Vp have mutualistic, commensal, or parasitic relationships with K. brevis. Monitoring this relationship over time will determine if there are human health concerns in marine environments aside from brevetoxin exposure during blooms of Florida red tide. This information is vital to recreational swimmers, particularly as it pertains to immunocompromised individuals who may be more susceptible to vibriosis. Data will be used to apply for larger grants investigating the relationships between harmful algal blooms (including other marine and freshwater phytoplankton species) and human pathogenic bacteria. Results will be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

How to apply

Please visit mote.smapply.org and select the Research Experience for Graduate Students Program.

Applicants will receive notification by late April.

Questions?

Email your questions to: intern@mote.org