DNA, Red Tide and the Sea, an interactive new exhibit at Mystic Aquarium, gives visitors a look at the ocean on a microscopic level.
The outreach component of a four-year, $1 million National Science Foundation grant, the exhibit highlights research led by Senjie Lin, professor of marine sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point.
Working with colleagues at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the University of Maryland’s Center of Marine Biotechnology and the Venter Institute, Professor Lin is trying to determine which genes are active when a red tide is formed and toxins are produced in dinoflagellates, a microscopic plant, or phytoplankton. Professor Lin’s research on phytoplankton is focused on dinoflagellates because of their multi-faceted features: they provide food for animals in the sea and are indispensible for the growth of coral reefs, yet they are also major contributors to a coastal environmental hazard, red tide and marine toxins. Dissecting the DNA codes that make dinoflagellates unique and able to form red tides and produce toxins may someday help scientists find genetic markers that will predict when a toxic red tide is forming and its intensity. Toxins from red tide can spread up the food chain, from shellfish to marine animals to humans, causing illness and, in some cases, death. “Understanding the DNA structure is the key to cracking the secret behind dinoflagellates’ ability to form red tides and produce toxins, and that endeavor is accessible to anyone, as you can experience in the exhibit,” said Lin, who hopes the exhibit will trigger interest in science among children. For more information on the exhibit and Professor Lin’s research, visit searesearch.org.