The MIT Sea Grant College Program has selected Janelle Thompson, assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, as the recipient of the 2010 Doherty Professorship in Ocean Utilization. She will receive a supplemental award of $25,000 per year for two years.
Thompson's proposed research for the Doherty Professorship will focus on understanding the host-associated microbial communities (microbiome) in corals, their activity in response to environmental stress and to lesions caused by White Plague disease. This is a very timely piece of research given the current rates of coral decline worldwide and the urgent need to understand how environmental factors may be linked to coral health. Dr. Thompson's research will focus on the hypothesis that coral health can be explained by activity of the microbiome. Her research focuses on corals found off the coast of Brazil in the Androlhos Bank (Mussismilia brazilienses), and is to be carried out in collaboration with colleagues from Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. Support from the Doherty Professorship will enable her to pursue detailed diagnostic tests on specimens of healthy, diseased and incubated coral specimens to be obtained in expeditions planned for 2010 and 2011.
Thompson’s lab focuses on microbial ecology and engineering. Using a multidisciplinary approach, lab members study how microbes interact with their environment, be it host tissue or contaminated sediment. Their goal is to develop the technology to monitor and manipulate microbial communities for the sustainable management of environmental resources. Current projects include exploring how microbial communities assemble in association with epithelial tissues and investigating the ecological significance and regulation of bacterial virulence factors in natural environments. Thompson and her lab members are also beginning work to identify the response of deep subsurface microbial communities to carbon sequestration. Understanding how microbial populations interact to mediate activities such as virulence and biogeochemical cycling will improve our ability to model the activities of microbes in the environment, monitor their impact on human and ecosystem health, and to design remediation and disease prevention strategies.
Endowed by the Henry L. and Grace Doherty Charitable Foundation, the Doherty Fellowship encourages promising, non-tenured professors to undertake marine-related research that will further innovative uses of the ocean's resources. The area of research may address any aspect of marine use and/or management, whether social, political, environmental or technological.
The mission of the MIT Sea Grant College Program is to employ innovative research, education and outreach strategies to responsibly use and sustain the vital marine resources of Massachusetts. The issues we address manifest locally but many are global in nature. Compelling challenges demand our attention as a solo entity and in partnership with other groups living and working on the coasts and at sea. MIT Sea Grant brings the substantial intellectual abilities of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and our sister universities to bear on ocean-related challenges requiring an extraordinary technical contribution. In meeting these challenges, we expand human understanding of the ocean and establish the infrastructure to sustain the initiatives and talent pool needed to address complex issues of critical and fragile marine resources.