Feature Friday: Casandra Newkirk

Hi, Casandra Newkirk! Welcome to Reefbites. 

Twitter (@casscraze)

Cassandra is a PhD student in Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences at the University of Florida. Her research focuses on the cnidarian algal symbiosis. Read more about Cassandra’s work below! 

Give an elevator pitch of what your projects are about: 

I work mainly on model systems pertaining to the cnidarian algal symbiosis. I completed my PhD using the upside down jellyfish, Cassiopea xamachana, to model how the symbiotic algal cells were interacting with the host at uptake and over time. My main focus was researching how these jellyfish and their symbionts behaved when placed under stress conditions (high temperature) that could lead to the expulsion of the algae from host tissues (bleaching). Now in my first post doc position I am using both Cassiopea and the popular model organism Aiptasia to try and better understand the essential molecular components that lead to a successful and stable symbiosis between host and algae.

Why is this project important and timely?:

This project is essential to our understanding of what drives this symbiosis at a molecular level. Much is known about the ecological status of these symbiotic relationships, but there are still large gaps in knowledge about what is occurring on a cellular level.

What is the broader impact and implication of your work?

I hope that with this work we can help symbiotic cnidarians better adapt to the changing climate. 

How did you come to work in this field?

I have been interested in marine science since grade school. Coming into graduate school I had an opportunity to work on corals and really enjoyed it. Moving into creating my research project I was very intrigued by the idea of using model cnidarians to address some fundamental gaps in knowledge.

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

Be open and honest if you are struggling. Finding a good mentor (even if it isn’t your main PI) is essential. We all need help and support sometimes, and finding ways to achieve that makes all the difference in your success. 

Any additional information or comments you would like to share?

Always follow your passion for science, but also be kind to yourself along the way!

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