A Seaweed to beat them all

Killian Campbell, Eastern Washington University


“Gracilaria vemiculophylla”.

Does anything even remotely familiar come to mind when you read those words? If you’re like most people, the answer is probably “no”. However, this strange red seaweed is actually quite ubiquitous, and chances are it dwells somewhere along the coast of the country you live in.

To most of the world, Gracilaria vermiculophylla is an invasive organism—Unless of course you live in East Asia, where it is considered to originate from. Outside of East Asia however, human activities have carried this organism far and wide. Of those activities, the trading of Japanese oysters to the rest of the world is believed to play the biggest role in transporting Gracilaria to new environments.

Above all, what makes Gracilaria so remarkable is that it can thrive in many different types of conditions all over the world. For example, Gracilaria can easily be found along the coastline right here in Charleston, but the climate in Charleston is very different from its native environment in Japan. Gracilaria’s remarkable ability to adapt to its environment makes it an interesting organism to study.

gracGracilaria vermiculophylla found along Grice Beach, Charleston, South Carolina. Photo Credit: Melanie Herrera.

Given that, I will be researching Gracilaria with Dr. Erik Sotka at Grice Marine Laboratory. My research will attempt to uncover some of the reasons why Gracilaria is able to thrive in so many different environments, and what allows other invasive species to thrive in varying conditions. Past research has found that heat shock proteins (Hsps) may play a role in Gracilaria’s ability to survive. Hsps are molecules found inside most living organisms that regulate the functions of the cells and thus keep the organism alive during high stress events (extreme temperatures, or in the case of marine organisms, extremely high or salinity levels). In response to that, researchers have recently developed what are known as inhibitors. Inhibitors are tools that halt the functions of Heat Shock Proteins. We believe that giving inhibitors to Gracilaria can halt the functions of their Hsps, and we can use that information to gain insight about the stress tolerance of Gracilaria, and ultimately other marine organisms. To do this, I will be harvesting lots of Gracilaria form Charleston Harbor, giving them inhibitors, and subjecting them to extreme temperatures and salinity levels to see how they respond. Additionally, we hope that the data we generate can inform predictions about the health of other marine organisms as ocean temperatures rise due to climate change.

I want to dedicate some words of appreciation Dr. Erik Sotka, Benjamin Flanagan, Dr. Bob Podolsky, Grice Marine lab The College of Charleston, and the NSF for this wonderful opportunity.

Works Cited:

Sørensen, J. G., Kristensen, T. N. and Loeschcke, V. (2003). The evolutionary and ecological role of heat shock proteins. Ecol. Lett. 6, 1025–1037.

Queitsch, C., Sangster, T. a and Lindquist, S. (2002). Hsp90 as a capacitor of phenotypic variation. Nature 417, 618–24.

Krueger-Hadfield, S. A., Kollars, N. M., Strand, A. E., Byers, J. E., Shainker, S. J., Terada, R., Greig, T. W., Hammann, M., Murray, D. C., Weinberger, F., et al. (2017). Genetic identification of source and likely vector of a widespread marine invader. Ecol. Evol.



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