College of Engineering
Pocillopora damicornis, commonly known as cauliflower coral or lace coral, from the lab of Nastassja Lewinski, Ph.D. Photo courtesy of Liza Roger, Ph.D. [View Image]
Pocillopora damicornis, commonly known as cauliflower coral or lace coral, from the lab of Nastassja Lewinski, Ph.D. Photo courtesy of Liza Roger, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral researcher receives award to conduct coral experiments in California

Liza Roger, Ph.D., has received a 2021 Early Career Training Program Award from the Coral Bleaching Research Coordination Network, an interdisciplinary program funded by the National Science Foundation.

Roger is a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Nastassja Lewinski, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering. Lewinski is leading coral cell culture research at VCU as part of a multi-university team researching ways to help coral survive.

Liza Roger, Ph.D. [View Image]
Liza Roger, Ph.D.

Healthy corals live with symbiotic algae in their tissue, but the rise in seawater temperatures generates physiological stress in corals. They expel the algae, which makes the skeleton visible through transparency of the tissue. This process is commonly referred to as coral bleaching.

The early career training program provides learning opportunities in the study of coral bleaching.

Roger’s award will provide funds for travel and research supplies for her to perform experiments with two collaborators at the University of California Riverside in September. Roger will investigate targeted delivery of engineered antioxidant nanoparticles to chloroplasts contained in symbiotic algae in reef-building corals. She will be testing whether this treatment strategy can mitigate stress linked to coral bleaching.

“Investigating therapeutic applications of nanoparticles to mitigate the effects of climate change on coral reefs could help preserve marine tropical ecosystems,” Roger said. These ecosystems are critical and “are biodiversity hotspots because of the abundance and diversity of life — all life.”

Her hosts at UC Riverside are Juan Pablo Giraldo, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences, and Robert Jinkerson, Ph.D., assistant professor in the departments of Chemical and Environmental Engineering and Botany and Plant Sciences.

Lewinski said, “Using nanotechnology to save coral reefs is exciting, plus it challenges us to think deeply about nanoparticle-coral interactions and nanoparticles in the environment.”

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