URI scientist part of research team receiving $1.7M grant for coral study

HOLLIE PUTNAM, an assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Rhode Island, is part of a research team of university scientists that recently received a $1.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation to study corals and help the reef systems survive climate change. / COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF RHODE ISLAND

SOUTH KINGSTOWN – Hollie Putnam, an assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Rhode Island, is part of a research team of five university scientists that received a $1.7 million grant to study corals and how to help coral reef systems survive in changing climates.

According to a media release from URI, the grant was given to the team by the National Science Foundation to figure out reasons why certain environmental conditions damage corals and to find methods to help repair them.

URI said the scientists will analyze data currently available about corals, fisheries, oceanography, molecular biology and genomics in order to identify critical molecules involved in “building reef structures, wound healing and symbiosis,” and have those interactions tested in both natural and 3D-printed models of synthetic corals. The team will then disrupt the system and examine the subsequent interactions to “better understand the relationships at a molecular and organism level.”

Putnam, in a statement, said the corals’ complexity makes conserving and restoring reefs “very challenging.”

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“Corals are made up of many different organisms, including the animal host and the algae, bacteria, viruses and fungi that coexist with it,” Putnam said. “They’re more like cities than individual animals, as they provide factories, housing, restaurants, nurseries and more for an entire ecosystem. Everything found on a reef is there because corals build the reef structure.”

Other team members performing the study include Judith Klein-Seetharaman of the Colorado School of Mines, Lenore Cowen of Tufts University, Jinkyu Yang of the University of Washington and Nastassja Lewinski of Virginia Commonwealth University.

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com.

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