Our lab studies the ecology, chemistry, and ecotoxicology of bioactive compounds synthesized by harmful algae in freshwater, estuarine and marine ecosystems. I am interested in 1) how we impact harmful algal blooms and associated toxins (e.g., through eutrophication, coastal development, and climate change), and 2) how they, in turn, contaminate our ecosystem and threaten public health. More specifically, our research focuses on anthropogenic and natural drivers of toxin production and algal blooms, the stability and transport of the natural toxins, the accumulation, biotransformation, and transfer of the natural toxins through food webs, and the ecotoxicology of phycotoxins in organisms and ecosystems. In addition, we develop analytical methods (e.g., LC-MS/MS) and in-situ tools for such goals as resource management, evaluating risk to humans, and/or explorative research.
With an apparent regional and global increase in the frequency, expansion, and intensity of harmful algal blooms (HABs), there is an urgent need to 1) better understand environmental factors that promote the production, accumulation, transport and degradation of algal toxins, 2) characterize emerging HABs and phycotoxins, 3) develop tools to detect algal toxins in seafood and drinking water supplies, and 4) predict how HAB dynamics and toxicity might be altered by expanding coastal development and climate change. Our interdicisplinary research team, therefore, investigates multiple taxonomic groups (dinoflagellates, cyanobacteria, and diatoms) and their phycotoxins in coastal watersheds, along the freshwater-estuarine-oceanic gradient, pushing HAB research into the direction of multiple stressors, multiple HABs and toxins, all acting on an interconnected system in a changing world.
I am currently looking for motivated graduate students to join my lab group. I welcome students to contact me with similar research interests and a background in environmental chemistry, ecology, environmental/aquatic science, biochemistry or ecotoxicology. If you are interested in working with me, please send me an email with your resume/CV, a brief description of your research interests, unofficial transcripts, and GRE scores (if available). Some immediate research topics I am interested in exploring include emerging toxins, toxin production and trophic transfer, impacts from nutrient pollution and climate change, co-occurring HABs/phycotoxins, and drinking water/seafood safety and sustainability.
- Collaborative research: Identification of nitrogen source for toxic Alexandrium blooms using a novel species-specific tracer, δ15N-saxitoxin (NSF – CHEM OCE)
- Enhanced monitoring of harmful algal bloom dynamics and toxicity using real-time observations from co-deployed, automated biosensors (MIT Sea Grant, subcontract to WHOI)
To investigate these applied environmental and public health questions in both lab and field experiments, we utilize analytical instrumentation and methods (e.g., UPLC-MS/MS, multi-dimensional chromatography, HPLC-ox-FLD) to quantitate complex toxin profiles in water, animal tissue, sediments, and plankton. Mass spectrometry is particularly useful as ecosystems can be concurrently exposed to numerous toxin groups, with a single toxin group containing up to 80+ congeners (i.e., compounds with similar chemical structure).