Hi, Jay Dimond! Great to have you on ReefBites.
Jay recently defended his PhD at the University of Washington. His research focuses on patterns, dynamics, and potential roles of DNA methylation in corals.
Give an elevator pitch of what your research/project is about.
I’m interested in the sources of phenotypic variation in corals at the molecular level. Epigenetics is this additional layer of information in the genome we are just starting to probe, and it may help us understand phenotypic variation in all kinds of organisms. For corals, it may help us solve problems ranging from taxonomy to the basis of acclimatization to the warmer and more acidic waters of the near future.
Why is this research/project important and timely?
Corals are highly threatened, so whatever we can learn about them may help reverse or slow all the bad things we are doing to them. Meanwhile, thanks to various technological advances and the reduced costs of sequencing and big data science, epigenetic studies are now achievable for those of us in the environmental (or non-biomedical) sciences.
What is the broader impact and implication of your findings?
My work found evidence for environmental influence on DNA methylation, suggesting methylation may have an acclimative function. At the same time, there was also evidence for heritability of methylation patterns. Both of these characteristics of methylation are necessary for it to be implicated as part of potential transgenerational acclimatization responses. These kinds of relatively fast responses, along with slower natural selection, are critical for coral survival in the face of climate change.
How did you come to work in this field/project?
I was interested in pursuing PhD work on the molecular ecology of corals. When looking for a potential advisor, Steven Roberts was someone I had known from a previous job and he seemed like a great choice. He and his students were focused on DNA methylation in bivalves. Steven was interested in having someone in the lab working on methylation in corals, so I think our interests merged.