BALTIMORE, MD (June 19, 2012)--The world's corals are at risk of disintegrating thanks to increasingly acidic ocean waters, but what about the sponges? Graduate student Jan Vicente at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology has been awarded the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's prestigious Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship to find out.
The program recognizes outstanding scholarship and encourages independent graduate level research in oceanography, marine biology and maritime archaeology. Vicente is working towards his Ph.D. in the laboratory of sponge expert Dr. Russell Hill of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. The scholarship provides substantial support for Vicente's graduate studies over the next four years.
"Jan brings huge energy and enthusiasm to his work on sponges," said Russell Hill, Interim Director of the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology. "I'm convinced that he'll make major contributions through this project."
Ocean acidification has become a topic of global concern as carbon dioxide levels are on the rise. When carbon dioxide reacts with seawater, it makes it difficult for calcifying organisms like corals and oysters to build their skeletons. These organisms are reef builders that provide habitat for thousands of other organisms and are the foundation of entire ecosystems.
Research efforts have focused on the impact of ocean acidification on corals, while there is a lack of research on the impact it may have on how sponges build their skeletons. Vicente will study how increased concentrations of carbon dioxide are affecting the sponges' ability to synthesize spicules and collagen fibers that make up their skeleton.
He will be monitoring the silicatein and collagen genes of two common Florida Keys sponges in particular, the Black Ball Sponge and the Red Vase Sponge, under simulated ocean acidification conditions. In addition, he will study the bacterial communities that live on the sponges to determine if they can serve as biological indicators of environmental stressors, such as ocean acidification and climate change.
Sponges are an integral part of coral reefs, accounting for as much as 60% of some coral reefs in the Caribbean. The most common sponges found in coral reefs are responsible for filtering the water and returning essential nutrients to the reef.
The Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship provides $42,000.00 ($30,000.00 stipend and $12,000.00 for tuition and travel) per year for 4 years. NOAA competitively awarded three scholarships out of 254 applicants.
Located in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology is a strategic alliance involving scientists at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, the University of Maryland Baltimore and the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Scientists are engaged in cutting-edge research in microbiology, molecular genetic analysis and biotechnology, using marine life to develop new drug therapies, alternative energy and other innovations to improve public health and economic opportunities. IMET also contributes to sustainable marine aquaculture and fisheries in the Chesapeake Bay and marine ecosystems.