Feature Friday: Ben Young

Hi, Ben Young! Great to have you on ReefBites.

Twitter: @BenDYoung93

Instagram: @benjiyoung11

Ben is a PhD student in the Taylor-Knowles lab at the University of Miami. He is studying coral holobiont disease genetics and dynamics. Read more about Ben’s work below!

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

My research is utilizing next generation sequencing methods to understand the coral holobionts response to disease, specifically Acropora palmata and Acropora cervicornis. We still do not understand the exact causative pathogens for most coral diseases, so therefore I am focusing on the host’s response to disease. By assessing it this way, we can identify the genetic mechanisms which may confer resistance to disease within and between species, as well as identifying whether any of the holobiont constituents play a role in this.

Why is this research/project important and timely?

The two species I am focusing on are heavily used in Caribbean restoration programs. With increasing outplanting of these species, we need to understand the hologenome aspect of disease dynamics for them. My research can therefore help to inform asexual and sexual restoration efforts by gaining a more thorough insight into the holobionts response to disease.

What is the broader impact and implication of your findings?

While I am currently only focusing on 2 species, this research may provide new methodologies to assess other important species (for example, Orbicella faveolata) in relation to host disease dynamics. Furthermore, by addressing disease dynamics through genomic corridors, potential development of potential biomarkers may be possible (but this is down the road).

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

I undertook my undergraduate degree at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. Being in Australia, I learnt to dive on the Great Barrier Reef (which is not a bad place to learn to dive!!). These diving experiences, as well as my field work for classes cemented that coral research was where I wanted to be. A further internship at Mote Marine in the Florida Keys introduced me to Erin Muller’s work on disease, and it was then that I knew that I wanted to pursue coral disease research.

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

Make time to stay active and keep healthy. I run 5 times a week, play football (soccer for any Americans out there) and climb. It helps to clear your mind. I also started meditating which I was always skeptical about but it’s made me much more focused lately.

What is the elevator pitch for your fieldwork project?

We are undertaking a 2-year sampling mission and collecting samples and observational data from outplanted Acropora palmata and Acropora cervicornis by the Coral Restoration Foundation. With this we will be tracking identified genes and gene pathways important in disease resistance and susceptibility (from my previous research) and see how these change, within different genotypes, throughout a year period. We will also be assessing the stability of the symbionts and how they change/stay the same at different points of the year. This is aiming to understand the seasonal dynamics and how it may affect the response to disease.

Why is this research/project important and timely?

Outplanting of these 2 species is now a large-scale project throughout the Caribbean. Therefore, it is important that we understand the holobionts dynamics for disease so that we can use this information to inform restoration practices. This may increase productivity as well as decrease costs for future restoration missions.

What advice would you give for successful fieldwork?

I have 3 pieces of advice.

1) Make a comprehensive plan which a checklist with everything you need and need to do.

2) Check everything 100000 times before you go out (i.e. enough zip-ties, have your booties).

3) Have backups of LITERALLY EVERYTHING.

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