Can computer models help restore marine life affected by climate change? – News @ Northeast
Katie Lotterhos helps raise better oysters. Not just the ones that taste better (although that’s one of them), but most importantly, those that will be better suited to ward off disease and survive in warmer, saltier, and more acidic waters.
She and her colleagues do this by researching tiny variations in the genetic makeup of certain oysters, then using computer models to predict how those differences will help or hinder bivalves in complex and changing environments.
âWe can grow oysters that will be more disease resistant, but how will they respond to other stressors in their environment? There is a need to understand how genomes affect an organism’s performance in relation to a number of variables, âsays Lotterhos, associate professor of marine and environmental sciences at Northeastern.
His work has many consequences, and not just for fans of the half-shell.
But humans may be able to help restore marine populations moving them to more suitable environments or breeding them for traits that allow them to survive on their own.
âClimate change is happening so quickly that some scientists fear that some species may not be well adapted to their environment in the future,â Lotterhos said. “But while a northern oyster may no longer be suitable for living in the North, perhaps a southern oyster would do well in the North.”
Lotterhos and his colleagues focus particularly on the oriental oyster, Crassostrea virginica, which stretches from the Atlantic coast of Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Although these seashells are all of the same species, they have different adaptations depending on the region they are found, Lotterhos explains. Animals in the south may be better able to handle hot water, while those that grow near river mouths might be adapted to water with less salt.
She hopes her modeling techniques will allow scientists to select oysters with specific genetic information that will give them the best chance for success and survival.
For his work, Lotterhos recently received two prestigious awards: a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation and a Fulbright Fellowship.
The CAREER Prize is one of the highest honors bestowed by the United States government on young faculty members in engineering and science. Prizes are awarded to professors with “the potential to serve as academic models in research and education and to advance the mission of their department or organization.”
And the Fulbright will allow its team to study oyster populations in the Baltic Sea off Sweden, known as a “time machine for the future ocean,” says Lotterhos, a reputation it received warming for its onset and other stressors that forced scientists to test new methods to restore aquatic populations.
“These awards indicate that she is a true emerging leader in her field,” said Geoffroy Trussel, president, director and professor of marine and environmental sciences at Northeastern. “These are very prestigious awards and the competition for them is so fierce that Katie’s success speaks volumes about the importance the scientific community places on her research.”
For Lotterhos, recognition is more of a motivation to continue.
âWorking on climate change can seem difficult because it’s really hard to put the whole world on the same page,â she says. âBut the way I think about it is that it’s a process, and we’re just constantly trying to work towards a different set of goals related to solving these issues. At the end of the day, that’s what we need to do.
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