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Interview with Dr. Amy Apprill

Amy Apprill is a researcher of Marine Microbiology. Her work focuses on the relation of Bacteria and Archaea to the health and ecology of marine animals. Her interest is on how animal associated microbes reflect the alterations in the surrounding marine environment that may be related to climate change and anthropogenic-related impacts. Research includes genomic, traditional microbiological and oceanographic analysis to uncover the microbial relationships that may help sustain our oceans marine life.

Saumyadip: Amy Apprill, a scientist in the field of Biological Oceanography. Before we go in more detail about your travel in the due course of your research we would like to know how you started with marine science.
Dr. Amy Apprill: I decided to pursue marine science because I really enjoyed the adventures associated with field research. I also liked the idea of not being tied to a desk, although now I do spend a lot of time at my desk on my computer.

Saumyadip: In 2001 you have done B.A. in Marine Science, Biology from University of San Diego, followed by M.S. in Biological Oceanography from University of Hawaii in 2004. The subject is unique and obvious that fewer researchers follow into this subject since many countries can’t afford instrumental variety to collect samples from the oceans. What led you to your current research area?
Dr. Amy Apprill: I obtained my PhD from the University of Hawaii. My coursework included general oceanography, biological oceanography, and microbiology. While in Hawaii, I had the opportunity to study the microbiology of corals. At the time (2002), this field was just beginning to be explored. Since I had direct access to corals in the waters surrounding me, it was fairly easy to pursue this line of research.

Saumyadip: The background of your recent study highlights your observations of lesioned corals in the Red Sea. Bacteria that play roles or may be associated with the corals are either found to be symbionts or acting as a pathogen for the corals. The obvious question does come up whether some bacteria play role in causing lesions on corals?
Dr. Amy Apprill: Our study on the Red Sea corals did not identify any bacteria particularly associated with the lesioned corals. This is a growing trend in the study of diseased or lesioned corals, as bacterial pathogens are generally not associated with diseased corals.

Saumyadip: Climate change has become a serious threat to the upcoming world. Not only environmentalist but also marine biologists also have been working to maintain the health of the biological life underneath the oceans. How do you face this in the course of your research?
Dr. Amy Apprill: You are correct, there are likely impacts on our studies that we are not aware of. However, by using controls in our experiments we are able to observe and understand alterations that occur in relation to the controls.

Saumyadip: There is a website called Micronesia 2012 which gives the description of your trip with 13 other scientists from 5 different research institutions around the globe. The expedition leads to the collection of 694 whole coral samples, 551 coral tissue samples and 62 reef water samples. Can you please define this wonderful expedition that you have carried out in association of other 12scientists?
Dr. Amy Apprill: This was the first large-scale expedition to the coral reefs of the Federated States of Micronesia. We had many science goals during our cruise. My group was involved in collecting coral and seawater samples for analysis of associated microorganisms. There was also a reef survey group, who recorded the abundance, diversity and health state of corals at each site. Lastly, there was a group that collected skeletal cores from the corals for reconstruction of past climate events.

Saumyadip: Your recent study published in PLOS ONE described your work on core skin bacterial community in humpback whales. You have collected 56 skin samples from humpback whales from the North Atlantic, North Pacific and South Pacific oceans. This research clearly reveals the association of groups of bacteria dwelling on the skin, which are either good or possibly harmful. We would like to know your investigation behind this research.
Dr. Amy Apprill: My marine mammal scientist colleagues collected the skin samples from humpback whales, which were used in our study. The findings from this sample set are very intriguing; we find the same groups of bacteria (Tenacibaculum spp. and Psychrobacter spp.) associated with humpback whales living in diverse ocean environments. These are marine bacteria, and both do associate with marine animals. However, the sequences that we have found on humpback whales are novel. We don’t know how these bacteria are interacting with the whales. However, since we do find them associated with healthy animals then it is possible they are doing something to aid the health of the whale. For example, they may be producing antibiotics that prevent the growth of pathogens on the skin.

Saumyadip: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is one of the best known and most trusted names in ocean science and exploration. Will you please introduce your Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry Department where you had been working with your exploration?
Dr. Amy Apprill: We are a group of scientists that study the chemistry and geochemistry of the oceans. Several of us are also microbiologists, who are interested in understanding the role of microorganisms in the biogeochemistry of the oceans and how they impact other marine life.

Saumyadip: Now something little ahead of science background. People really want to know how you developed your interests over science and moreover would also like to know your life apart from science.
Dr. Amy Apprill: I have always been interested in life in the oceans, and over the past decade have developed a curiosity about animal-microbial relationships. My favorite part of scientific research is the field component, as I really enjoy getting underwater and working in this challenging environment. When I am not being a scientist, I am a mother to two small children (ages 2 and 4). My 4-year old really enjoys science. We routinely conduct little kitchen science experiments together.

Saumyadip: Knowing enormous opportunities that abound in Microbiology but which remain relatively untapped, so how do we improve the interests of young intellectuals in Microbiology as a field of study in developing countries like India.
Dr. Amy Apprill: Interacting with scientists in more developed nations and attending scientific meetings are two ways to improve interests in Microbiology. For example, there is an Indonesian scientist in my laboratory now who is learning new techniques to study coral-microbes.

-Source: www.wethemicrobiologist.in
Micrographia Today e-magazine

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