Dr. Helen Gurney-Smith: Flexing your Mussels: Shellfish as Powerful Ecosystem Indicators

Dr. Helen Gurney-Smith, Research Scientist and Head of Shellfish Health & Husbandry Group at the Centre for Shellfish Research (that us!) talked about her cutting edge work at TEDx Victoria this fall.  Her talk, filmed at TEDxVictoria on November 19 2011 is now available on the web.  Very exciting!

Dr. Helen Gurney-Smith is a research scientist and manager at the Centre for Shellfish Research at Vancouver Island University, and has led the Shellfish Health and Husbandry Group since 2007. Her current shellfish health research includes development of genomic tools and resources to further understand shellfish stress and the examination of the health and resilience of shellfish populations. Her research involves partnerships with governmental, academic, industry and First Nations groups both nationally and internationally.

The BC coastline is under increasing pressure from competing coastal zone utilization (e.g. urbanization, recreation and aquaculture) and potential climate change impacts, highlighting the need for effective diagnostic tools of coastal ecosystem health and function. One of the major problems in assessing shellfish health is how to determine the organism’s response to multiple stressing agents in the natural environment such as temperature, salinity, oxygen levels and diet as well as to man-made effects such as pollution and aquaculture husbandry methods. Mass mortalities have occurred in both wild and cultured populations of marine shellfish, and the reasons remain largely unclear.

But what is stress to shellfish? How much can they withstand, and what are the major stressors in their environment? To look at this we’re using a type of genomics called functional genomics, through a tool called a microarray that we’ve developed. This allows you to look at the first level of a stress response, by looking at changes in the expression of genes. We hope to use this to examine how large-scale climate variations (e.g. ocean acidification, global warming) may affect the animals that we see on the beach in the future. Also to use these techniques to examine how industries and wastewater may affect coastal health and productivity. What impacts do upland users, such as increased urbanization and agriculture, have on coastal systems? And also what role do environmental fluctuations play in stress responses? We’re just beginning this research so watch this space!

For more information see www.mytome.ca or contact:

Helen Gurney-Smith, PhD
Research Scientist
Head of Shellfish Health & Husbandry Group
Centre for Shellfish Research
Vancouver Island University
900 Fifth Street, Building 373
Nanaimo, BC  V9R 5S5 Canada

Telephone:  (1) 250.740.6381
e-mail: helen.gurney-smith@viu.ca
Web: www.viu.ca/csr | www.mytome.ca

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