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The Woods Hole Center For Oceans And Human Health


<p>The Woods Hole Center for Oceans and Human Health (WHCOHH) is a multi-institutional (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Marine Biological Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology) initiative that combines population biology, genomics and physical oceanography to study harmful algal blooms (HABs), pathogenic microorganisms, and potential pathogens. The Center's goal is to improve the public health through enhanced understanding of how oceanic processes affect the distribution and persistence of biological agents with potential human health consequences. WHCOHH researchers have interacted extensively with other OHH centers and scientists, as well as government officials responsible for public health. WHCOHH has supported 13 competitively awarded pilot projects and leveraged its resources by attracting new awards for related research. With funding through this Accomplishment-based Renewal, the WHCOHH will continue to build upon recent discoveries and ongoing research activity in two major areas:1. HAB Theme: A recent major accomplishment at the Center was the identification and characterization of the massive bloom of Alexandrium fundyense in the Gulf of Maine in 2005. This resulted in decisive management action that protected the public health in much of coastal New England. Models incorporating hydrodynamics and biological aspects of A. fundyense gave an accurate prediction of another severe bloom in New England in 2008. Apparently, this was the first-ever successful seasonal forecast of a red tide anywhere in the world. Genetic and physiological analysis of A. fundyense populations sampled during 2005-2008 yielded a unique dataset for testing hypotheses about how toxic dinoflagellate blooms form and change. Based on these results, the HAB research team will formulate a suite of population dynamics models for the multiple genotypes of A. fundyense, which differ dramatically in terms of growth rates and cellular toxin content. They hypothesize that the aggregate distribution of A. fundyense is composed of a mosaic of genetically distinct subpopulations, each with different physiological and/or behavioral responses to environmental conditions. The goal is to understand the hydrodynamic and biological controls on these populations, their toxin production, and how these factors ultimately determine fluctuations in shellfish toxicity. This HAB research will be augmented by additional field observations in a nearby salt marsh (Nauset) which has hydrodynamic connections to the regional HAB outbreaks. Instrumentation will be deployed for automated detection of A. fundyense, further advancing the technologies that can be used to manage these dangerous phenomena. 2. Pathogen theme: Recent research on pathogens at the Center has included studies of Vibrio species, studies on marine refuges of a variety of other human pathogens, and groundbreaking studies on the rare biosphere. Investigators uncovered microevolutionary dynamics of populations of potentially pathogenic bacteria in the environment by establishing a population genomic framework. This enabled them to determine the mechanisms of genome differentiation and their effect on population structure on different temporal and spatial scales. Such information permits differentiation of the effects of selection and demographics on bacterial populations and the pathogenic variants that are embedded within those populations. Building on accomplishments pertaining to Vibrio species, the pathogen team will now (1) determine the relationship between population structure and origin of the recently isolated coastal Vibrios and related human pathogens; (2) explore diversity, horizontal gene transfer, and the ecological role of virulence genes; and (3) determine host range, genetic diversity, and potential for gene transfer of vibriophages. As follow-up research in microbial community structure and low-abundance human pathogens, the team will (1) determine the temporal and spatial distribution of indicator organisms and pathogens in beach sands and (2) identify assemblages of potential indicator organisms as proxies for the occurrence of human pathogens. The Center will also be conducting a cross-cutting activity that will link HAB and pathogen studies in the Nauset Marsh System. High-resolution microbial population profiles will be compared with A. fundyense population data to assess potential correlations. A subset of these same samples will be analyzed for routine indicator organisms as well as other human pathogens. The Broader Impacts of the Center's previously funded and new research activities span all five categories defined by NSF. Teaching, training, and learning have been promoted via entrainment of more than 80 students and postdoctoral fellows thus far, with underrepresented groups participating in all levels of center activities. The WHCOHH genomics core facility and Alexandrium culture collection constitute significant investments in infrastructure for research and education. Extensive outreach efforts lead to broad dissemination of our results, and close connection with public health officials have had demonstrable benefits to society. These benefits are expected to continue to develop during the next two years of renewal funding.</p>

Stegeman, John J; McGillicuddy, Dennis
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
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