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Fishing for Fluorescence

Fishing for Fluorescence

misha_final

Juvenile polyps of staghorn coral

Juvenile polyps of staghorn coral

Q & A with Misha Matz, assistant professor of integrative biology


One of your main research interests is in fluorescence in corals and other marine organisms. What is your attraction to the study of fluorescent marine animals, beyond the “cool factor?”

One of my projects is bioprospecting for new genetically encoded fluorescent markers, which can be used in biotechnology to track proteins and cells in vivo in real time. I’m also interested in the ecological role of fluorescence. I believe it is an underappreciated way of visual communication between animals in the ocean. We have been studying coral fluorescence for the past six years, but now we’re looking pretty much at everything in the ocean. Sometimes we use research submersibles to get the samples, and that’s fun. For example, right now we are working on red fluorescence found in two species of deep-sea dragonfish. Other potential targets range from fireworms to sea slugs. As a fishing expedition, it’s really as exciting as it can possibly get.

You’re building a saltwater aquarium facility at Brackenridge Field Lab. What will that be like? What will you use it for?

This will be the first coral reef facility specifically designed to achieve regular spawning of corals in captivity. It will use natural light and precise programmable temperature control to simulate the conditions on particular reefs throughout the world (hence its name, the Inland Reef Simulator, or IReS). The idea is to bring the corals from all over their latitudinal range to one place, make them spawn synchronously, and cross them to look at the genetics of temperature tolerance.

Many of the world’s coral reefs could be in danger from warming ocean temperatures. Is this arm of your research related to global warming?

This is all about climate change. I’m interested in knowing how corals adapt to global warming naturally, and this is what reef management should try to facilitate to ensure coral reef survival. But what really excites me about corals is the possibility to follow their evolution as it happens before our eyes.

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