Research project title: The ecophysiology of dimethylsulphoniopropionate (DMSP) in coral reef ecosystems: from cells to the community.
Describe your research project Dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) represents a major fraction of organic sulfur in the marine environment and is involved in the transfer of sulfur through the marine food web. It has been estimated that globally more than 1 billion tonnes are produced by marine photosynthetic organisms per year. The dinoflagellate partners (Symbiodinium spp.) of scleractinian corals are the largest producers of DMSP in the marine environment, suggesting that this compound plays an important role in coral health. However, the underlying physiological function(s) and regulation of DMSP in corals is still unknown and some of the proposed functions include osmoregulation, cryoprotection, a herbivore deterrent, chemical attractant and foraging cue. There has also been a strong interest in the role DMSP may have in alleviating cellular oxidative stress through its antioxidant function and this is important because reactive oxygen species play a crucial role in coral bleaching. Under future climate change scenarios, the intensity and frequency of storms and increased seawater temperatures will put additional strain on the existing antioxidant defence mechanisms used by corals. So my work is investigating whether DMSP is providing corals an additional protective mechanism to prevent or slow coral bleaching.
What is the aim of your project? To determine whether DMSP has a functional role in the antioxidant stress response of corals.
Why did you choose to pursue a research degree as opposed to going into the work force? Why this area of research? I never thought I would end up continuing research, but after a trip to Heron Island during my marine undergraduate course I realised I wanted to complete a research degree and continue working on coral reefs. Australia is custodian of the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem, the Great Barrier Reef, which is known for its high biological diversity and high productivity, yet they are very fragile systems at the forefront of the impacts from climate change. I think having such a valuable resource right on our doorstep highlights why we need continued research to help guide management decisions and policy makers.
Photos by Matthew Nitschke
What is your daily activity? There is no daily routine for me – every day is different and exciting. Some days I may be in the lab for hours, while others I may be at my desk writing or processing data. I’ve also been lucky enough to have three field trips to Heron Island to complete my experiments, and there is definitely no normal day out in the field – we have felt an earthquake, been stuck in cyclone Marcia, had numerous power outages, had the water desalination tanks out of action, food not being delivered on the barge and loads of encounters with the wildlife on the island.
What attracted you to research at UTS Science? I was originally attracted to UTS because of the combined Science/Business degree they offered, and during the 4 years of undergraduate studies I began to really favour the Science side. From there I went on to a year of Honours in Environmental Science and then onto my PhD. From talking to friends at other universities and institutes, I have become aware of how hands on UTS is, with a lot of practical experience from early on with field trips ranging from a day to a week as part of our studies and for me those intensive field trips is where I realised UTS Science was where I wanted to be.
What is your future? At this stage I would really love to continue my research and am considering post-doc positions overseas to do so. I am very passionate about coral reefs and would feel really lucky to be able to continue working on something I value so highly.