Locatelli Photography

What I do

My Research

 
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I study the population genomics of these miraculous creatures. Their diversity never ceases to amaze me - even when I’m just reading about them from many thousands of miles away. Just when you think you start to understand them, they surprise you with some new tidbit of information that leaves you sitting there scratching your head.

 
 

 
 

Oh, I didn’t mean fish, I meant these things —>

These are corals. Simply put, they’re living rocks that can get really stressed and die.

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I think they’re one of the most important animals in the sea. There’s plenty of research to support this claim (see this NOAA link if you’d like the rundown), but I’m sure people studying other systems may disagree. Without them, you wouldn’t have smiling goofuses like this little <— friend.

 
 

 
 

Well I guess that didn’t really answer the question, What do I do?, now did it?

What I do is use next generation sequencing to subsample the genome of corals to see how their genomic patterns relate to their environment. Specifically, for my master’s thesis at Columbia University, I’m trying to understand if certain population genotypes are associated with fundamentally different ocean conditions. You might think, well duh, you can find genotypes associated with climate patterns all over the world in all species. But it’s not quite that simple. On a broad scale, these patterns exist everywhere, but on a small scale, populations tend to be so connected that sexual reproduction tends to swamp out local adaptation. The bay that is my study site is extremely small scale - only about 10km long - but ocean currents create a significant barrier to genetic exchange and oceanographic conditions (current velocity, temperature, salinity, etc.) differ dramatically between the bay and the surrounding reef habitats. In my opinion, this sets up a perfect combination for local adaptation to these conditions, and that’s what I hope to figure out through my thesis research.

Is local adaptation occurring on this small scale? And if so, does the genetic structure in respect to oceanographic conditions differ between taxa?

My focus may change a bit when I pursue a PhD, but this is where I’m at now. I think coral settlement and the metagenomics of their symbiotic communities is really fascinating and I’d also like to pursue that in the future. But first, I need to figure out my genomics questions, because I’m dying to know the answers.

 
 
 This is my study site! I’ve got the samples and now all I need to do is figure out what’s going on in that DNA

This is my study site! I’ve got the samples and now all I need to do is figure out what’s going on in that DNA