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The Levinson Emerging Scholars Program

Nicolette McCary - Biology, Oceanography

Nicolette McCary Biology and the Ocean have inspired Nicolette from a very young age, as she was raised spending most summer and weekend days on the beaches of Puget Sound. She was always fascinated by the barely perceptible organisms in tide pools, wondering what they were. After being invited to join Dr. Gabrielle Rocap’s Environmental Genomics Lab in the department of Oceanography her sophomore year, she was able to spend two years researching marine viruses and phytoplankton. She hopes to contribute to the limited knowledge of diatom virus seasonality, and identify Pseudo-nitzschia hosts that can be used to effectively isolate viruses in the future. After graduating with a degree in Oceanography (BS), she plans to remain engaged in research through the realm of scientific outreach. Her dream is to work with the younger generation, involving them in exciting scientific opportunities. In her spare time she loves to swim and volunteer with children at her church.

Mentor: Gabrielle Rocap, Oceanography

Project Title: Exploring host permissivity and the seasonality of viruses that infect the diatom Pseudo-nitzschia

Abstract: Diatoms are unicellular photosynthetic algae, or phytoplankton, and account for approximately 20% of global primary production. The pennate diatom Pseudo-nitzschia can produce a neurotoxin called domoic acid (DA) that builds up in the tissues of shellfish when this diatom blooms. DA poisoning causes life-threatening conditions in mammals and humans when these shellfish are ingested. One mechanism of bloom regulation that we know little about is that of viral infection, despite viruses being the most abundant predator in the ocean. One Pseudo-nitzschia infecting virus, the PmDNAV, was isolated in 2009. I hypothesize that there are many different viruses that can infect diatoms of the genus Pseudo-nitzschia in addition to the PmDNAV. In order for future researchers to be successful in Pseudo-nitzschia virus isolation, I am studying the seasonality of Pseudo-nitzschia viruses and finding permissive hosts to isolate them with. A permissive host is more susceptible to viral attack, and thus is more effective to use when isolating viruses. There have only been two studies on diatom virus seasonality, neither of which addresses the Pacific Northwest or Pseudo-nitzschia. To get a systematic look at virus seasonality, I am sampling the viral community once a month at two locations: Gray’s Harbor off the Washington Coast, and Penn Cove in the Puget Sound. I started in April 2013, and will continue for the full year. At each location I take water samples for concentrating viral particles, and a net tow of the planktonic community for Pseudo-nitzschia isolation. I am using infection experiments to determine viral presence, while also determining host permissivity. No one else in the science community is studying Pseudo-nitzschia viruses, with very few studying diatom viruses at all. After my data is published, it will be much easier for researchers to isolate Pseudo-nitzschia viruses in the future.