Feature Friday: Kelly Gómez Campo

Hi, Kelly Gómez Campo! Great to have you on ReefBites.

Kelly is a Ph.D. student at Penn State University, where she studies environmental modulation of coral homeostasis. Kelly has a M.Sc. in Marine Science and Limnology from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico. Learn more about Kelly’s research below:

Give an elevator pitch of what your research/project is about.

My research focuses on the complex, and yet only partially understood, acclimatory mechanisms by which both coral and algae may adjust to changes in environmental conditions. Questions were framed under two approaches:  At the chloroplast level, examine the response of thylakoid membrane proteins under acclimation (no stress), excessive excitation energy (light stress) and thermal stress conditions. At the holosymbiont level, explore the limits of light acclimation and examine how phenotypic plasticity might be driven by epigenetic variations (caused by changes in DNA methylation) in corals.

Why is this research/project important and timely?

Results will provide not only an understanding of the strategies corals use to acclimate and develop new phenotypes; but also, on the underlying molecular mechanisms that might drive these strategies.

What is the broader impact and implication of your findings?

Coral researchers have emphasized acclimatization as an important process by which coral species may survive climate change. Considering that symbiotic corals are the most efficient light collectors in nature, we use light as an environmental driver of phenotypic plasticity to explain acclimatory mechanisms in reef building corals.

How did you come to work in this field/project?

I worked as a research assistant for nearly 7 years in the national monitoring program for coral reefs in Colombia (SIMAC-INVEMAR). The dramatic effects of coral bleaching in Marine Protected Areas in Colombia captivated my attention; particularly, to understand the underlying bleaching mechanisms. With this in mind, I contacted Dr. Roberto Iglesias-Prieto. Through the fascinating approach of photophysiology, and integrating molecular tools, I’m interested to understand how photosynthetic corals modulate their physiology in order to acclimate to different environments.

Tell us a bit about your field work.

Location of fieldwork; why choose this location?

Puerto Morelos, Mexico; because of the collaboration between labs.

What is the elevator pitch for your fieldwork project?

The research facilities at Puerto Morelos -an open experimental tank system and the lab equipment- are great conditions to work.

Best and worst parts of your fieldwork:

Best: You can be very productive considering the access to an experimental system.

Worst: The weather is unpredictable and may affect you timing.

What advice would you give for successful fieldwork?

Plan in detail all the activities.

What is your top graduate school life hack or survival resource?

To choose a day of the week and avoid PhD related topics.

Morning exercise.

Walk my awesome dog.

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