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NEWSLETTER Issue 5 | Fall 2018

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© 2018 Amr Gusti


Contents

Page 3 - Message from the Director Page 4 - KAUST workshop on the future of Red Sea biodiversity Page 5 - Saving the world’s oceans Page 7 - Faculty Focus Page 8 - Reef corals have endured since the ‘age of dinosaurs’ and may survive global warming Page 9 - Novel carbon source sustains deep-sea microorganism communities Page 10 - Quantifying Red Sea plastics from coasts to fish Page 11 - Accolades Page 12 - Bacteria that boost plant roots against drought Page 13 - FEP 2018: Marine Biodiversity Page 14- New faces at RSRC

Contents | 2


Message from the Director Prof. Michael Berumen

As we approach the end of the semester, we are happy to share with you our latest edition of the RSRC Newsletter. This past semester has seen exciting developments at KAUST, notably the much-anticipated arrival of President Tony Chan. President Chan visited the RSRC with the goal of learning about who we are and the various research directions the Center is engaged in. President Chan continues to develop his vision for the university, so stay tuned for more updates. We anticipate several new initiatives across the university and within the Divisions. Many of these initiatives will engage Center members. At the beginning of this semester, we welcomed 11 new students to the RSRC. (You can read more about them on page 14.) This year, Eid al-Adha fell between the scheduled weeks of Orientation and the beginning of classes for the new students. We took this opportunity to take many of the new students on a research cruise to reefs in the KAUST area. Several existing RSRC members joined the cruise to help introduce the new students to various research projects as well as our local ecosystems. Check out more details on the RSRC webpage, where you can also see some of the great imagery (including the photo on the preceding pages) captured during the cruise. This fall, the RSRC was a co-host for the Fall Enrichment Program. Four great keynote lectures were delivered by RSRC visitors (see page 13). If you missed any of those talks, you can check them out on KAUST’s official YouTube channel. FEP dovetailed with an RSRC workshop titled “The Future of Red Sea Biodiversity”. The biodiversity workshop led to stimulating discussions over the course of 3 days. 3 | Message from the Director

© 2018 Anastasia Khrenova

The Open Science Conference, organized by RSRC students and postdocs, was held on November 28th and 29th. The meeting featured exciting talks from invited keynote speakers, but notably, the OSC emphasized work conducted by RSRC students and postdocs. Speaking out work within the RSRC, this newsletter features some impressive achievements of our students, faculty, and staff. We are hard-pressed to choose which stories to feature in the newsletter because there are so many great stories to tell. We are continuously adding profiles of our Center members and their research projects on the RSRC webpage, so please be sure to check out some of the stories there. It is a great way to learn about some of your Center colleagues. If you are interested to tell your story on the Center webpage, feel free to reach out to Seda (contact information on the back cover). On that note, I want to thank Seda for her efforts in assembling this newsletter (and for all her work with Center communications)! I hope you enjoy this latest issue.


© 2018 Helmy Alsagaff

KAUST Workshop on The Future of Red Sea Biodiversity The recently held KAUST Workshop on The Future of Red Sea Biodiversity brought together internationally recognized scientists from both KAUST and abroad to discuss important questions about how coral reef biodiversity should be monitored near the Kingdom’s planned mega-developments on the Red Sea coast. The three-day workshop held between October 23 and October 25 was organized by the Red Sea Research Center. The KAUST community was invited to attend the conference on October 23, and invited staff, students and visitors took part in a workshop on October 24 and 25. As Saudi Arabia is preparing to achieve the goals set by the Kingdom’s vision for the future, Vision 2030 - which is an ambitious yet achievable project - the RSRC is engaging in a constructive reflection about the environmental impact on the Red Sea coastal shores.

The aim of the workshop was to produce concrete recommendations to ensure conservation of these important ecosystems during construction and into the future so that their full natural value can be realized in a sustainable way.

Invited Speakers Prof. Rupert Ormond, Heriot Watt University, UK Prof. Ian Poiner, Reef and Rainforest Research Center, Australia Gustav Paulay, Florida Museum of Natural History, USA Prof. Luiz Rocha, California Academy of Sciences, USA Dr. Christopher Goatley, University of New England, Australia Prof. Catherine McFadden, Harvey Mudd College, USA Assoc. Prof. James Reimer, University of the Ryukyus, Japan Prof. Francesca Benzoni, University of MilanoBicocca, Italy Assoc. Prof. Arthur Bos, The American University of Cairo, UK Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation, USA Princess Hala bint Khaled bin Sultan Al-Saud Dr. Mohamed Faisal Alexandra Dempsey Renee Carlton Amy Heemsoth

Recent Events | 4


Saving the world’s oceans - By Matt Tietbohl Ocean conservation is one of the most important and difficult challenges we face today. With so many communities relying on the oceans as a source of food or income or for cultural significance, it is incredibly challenging to find successful ways to protect the bounty and beauty of Earth’s oceans in ways that every ocean-user can agree on. To address these challenges, we need to bring people together to find solutions to ocean conservation problems. In June, three KAUST students from the University’s Red Sea Research Center (RSRC) attended the 5th International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC5) in Kuching, Malaysia. This conference, the premier marine conservation science meeting worldwide, brought together over 650 attendees from 65 countries under the theme of “Making Marine Science Matter.” Attendees included students, scientists, government and NGO employees, artists and journalists. Conference participants spent a week together discussing and sharing science while working to find innovative ways to translate marine conservation science into real action. KAUST attendees share aspects of IMCC5 that left a lasting impression on them.

At the 5th International Marine Conservation Congress, scientists and conservation groups discussed how to work with fishing communities to ensure sustainable fish catches. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

5 | Recent News

Matt Tietbohl

Ph.D. student, Reef Ecology Lab IMCC5 Marketing/ Communications chair and presenter

There were so many exciting aspects of IMCC5! From pre-conference workshops to OceansOnline, the schedule was packed full with top-notch marine conservation science. It was also a privilege to serve as a chair on the IMCC5 board and be involved in the process of building a successful conference. For me, however, the most powerful part of this meeting came from the commitment to supporting diversity and equality in the attendees. Female symposia leaders were given discounts and many travel grants were given out to students and scientists from developing/small island nations. Seeing people present their work at a conference for the first time with the poise and knowledge of a seasoned presenter was thrilling! There were even high school students from Cambodia who presented a poster on work they’re doing to help support a local marine protected area. The incredible efforts that people of all backgrounds and ages are making to protect Earth’s oceans were both motivating and heartwarming. I’m fortunate to have been able to spend a week meeting and networking with such an incredible group of people, and I can’t wait to follow up with all the new contacts I made for future collaborations and research.


George Short

Aislinn Dunne

M.S. student, Integrated Ocean Process Research Group IMCC5 presenter

Ph.D. student, Integrated Ocean Process Research Group IMCC5 presenter

IMCC5 highlighted aspects of marine ecosystems that are underrepresented in academic study but essential to the understanding and preservation of our oceans. One example is an often overlooked but important above-water marine species: seabirds. Plenary speaker Dr. Enriqueta Velarde’s seabird monitoring has documented how specific seabird lifecycles have adapted to be seasonally coupled with fish populations and can act as indicators of fish stocks. Overfishing in certain areas is having detrimental effects on both the seabird populations and local economies. Another example is the deep-sea research conducted by the explorer Dr. Diva Amon. She is discovering alien-like deep-sea habitats and associated wildlife in them, which is unfortunately often accompanied by human trash. With the discovery of new life and interactions come illuminations into how we are degrading the ocean system—but there is hope! A main take-home message of IMCC5 was that with more knowledge comes the ability to better inform efforts to preserve and sustainably manage marine ecosystems for the benefit of humanity and the environment. For a community of people who observe and quantify ocean degradation, marine scientists are incredibly optimistic and solution-focused people!

I was captivated by the examples of scientists solving real conservation problems in their work. IMCC5 illustrated the range of ways in which people from many disciplines—like natural and social scientists, community organizers, non-profit agencies and entrepreneurs—are taking action to save our oceans. Academics and conservation groups explained how they work with fishing communities to determine sustainable fish catches. Deep-sea scientists showed how to live-stream underwater videos to rally public support and scientific inquiry for the darkest parts of the ocean. Marine biologists shared their techniques for picking out biologically rich parts of the coastline that must be set aside for protection. The exposure to countless examples of people creatively solving marine conservation problems all around the world was absolutely thrilling! Read this and more on KAUST News here.

Recent News | 6


Faculty Focus Prof. Christian Voolstra

- By David Murphy

Christian Voolstra, an Associate Professor of Marine Science and the Associate Director at the KAUST Red Sea Research Center (RSRC), began his scientific career researching model organisms in his native Germany. It was during his time as a postdoctoral fellow in California that he was intrigued by an advertisement in the scientific journal, Nature. “I saw the two-page ad in Nature in 2009, for a new university in Saudi Arabia which kind of piqued my interest. I applied for a listed position, and within a few weeks, I received a phone call to fly out to KAUST and do some interviews. When I arrived, I saw that research-wise you can knock yourself out at this place. I saw the opportunity and the promise of the University,” Voolstra emphasized. Voolstra’s research area is ecological and environmental genomics, and his current research aims to develop an integrated understanding of the ecology and evolution of the coral metaorganism. In particular the contribution of microorganisms to the well-being of their animal hosts. “This is the forefront of today’s research: can we tailor microbes to make plants and animals and ourselves better and healthier?,” Voolstra noted. Although coral reefs are increasingly affected by climate change, not all coral reefs are affected equally, and microbes may have something to do with that. 7 | Faculty Focus

© 2018 Anastasia Khrenova

Voolstra and his RSRC colleagues are currently exploring the north-south environmental gradients of the Red Sea to gain a greater understanding as to why the majority of Red Sea coral is healthy and more heat resilient to stresses versus reefs found in other parts of the world. He was also the co-author of a recent paper that suggests that coral-algal partnerships have endured and survived numerous climate change events over their long history. The research indicates that modern corals and their microalgae partners have been in a symbiotic relationship for a hundred sixty million years (100 million years longer than was previously thought). Voolstra believes that Saudi Arabia can be at the forefront of future global marine conservation efforts and become a marine preservation leader. “There is a change in how we think and view the marine environment, and I think Saudi is in a position to lead this effort. At the RSRC we can provide a lot of expert input into supporting such initiatives like NEOM, Vision 2030 and supporting sustainable, eco-friendly marine tourism here in the Kingdom,” Voolstra observed. Read more here.


Reef corals have endured since the ‘age of dinosaurs’ and may survive global warming The relationship between corals and the microalgae that enable them to build reefs is considerably older and more diverse than previously assumed, according to an international team of scientists. The team’s research suggests that coral-algal partnerships have endured numerous climate change events in their long history. It also offers a glimmer of hope that at least some are likely to survive modern-day global warming. “Our research indicates that modern corals and their algal partners have been entwined with each other since the time of the dinosaurs, approximately 160 million years ago—100 million years earlier than previously thought,” said Christian Voolstra, study co-author and a KAUST associate professor of marine science in the University’s Red Sea Research Center. “During their long existence, they have faced severe episodes of environmental change, but—thanks to their biological characteristics—they have managed to bounce back after each [of these].”

According to Voolstra, the micro-algae, which are commonly known as zooxanthellae, live inside the cells of corals, allowing them to acquire energy from sunlight and to build the massive, economically valuable reef formations upon which countless marine organisms rely on for a habitat. The team used genetic evidence including DNA sequences, phylogenetic analyses and genome comparisons to calculate the micro-algae’s approximate age of origin. They also used classical morphological techniques in which they compared visual characteristics of these symbionts using light and electron microscopy, computer modeling and other methods to discover that, in addition to being older, the algae family is far more diverse than previously perceived. The results were published online in the scientific journal Current Biology (August 9). This research has featured in BBC News, Independent, The Irish Times, The Earth Chronicles of Life, ScienceDaily and Penn Stat News.

Read more on this here.

Recent News | 8


Novel carbon source sustains deep-sea microorganism communities A carbon source stemming from daily fish migrations is implicated in the global carbon cycle. The first in-depth analyses of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) cycling in the Red Sea highlights the important role of migrating shoals of fish in sustaining deep-ocean microorganisms and potentially the global carbon cycle. The biological carbon pump is a cyclical process by which inorganic carbon from the atmosphere is fixed by marine lifeforms and transported through ocean layers into the deepest waters and ocean sediments. Fish that feed at the surface at night and retreat to the mesopelagic zone (200 to 1000 meters depth) by day were thought to influence carbon cycling, but the extent of their contribution has never been explored. Now, Maria Calleja and Xosé Anxelu Morán at KAUST’s Red Sea Research Center, and coworkers, demonstrate the impact of this daily migration on the vertical movement of carbon in the Red Sea and how it fuels the metabolism of single-celled heterotrophic prokaryotes belonging to the domains Bacteria and Archaea. “In a previous study, our co-authors Anders Røstad and Stein Kaartvedt discovered a community of fish in the Red Sea that migrate every night from around 550 meters depth to the surface waters to feed,” says Calleja. “We wondered how this fish migration might affect the microbial community inhabiting the same depths. Our two projects sought to clarify this by collecting data from a single Red Sea sampling site.” The first study examined vertical differences in DOC concentration and the flow of carbon through microbial communities at three specific layers in the water column during the day. Over eight days, the team monitored features such as DOC consumption, prokaryote growth and community composition in natural water samples taken from the surface, the deep layer where the fish rested during the day, and an intermediate layer at 275 meters. 9 | Research Highlights

Bacterial growth efficiency in the deepest layer was significantly higher than previously estimated, “suggesting a labile DOC source—one that is tasty and easily broken down by the bacteria—that helps generate larger cells,” explains Calleja. Heterotrophic bacterial communities in the mesopelagic layer were also found to be more active than those in the surface waters. “Our second paper, led by a former KAUST post-doc who is now at the University of Exeter, Francisca García, followed changes over 24 hours along the whole water column, sampling 12 different depths (from 5 to 700 meters) every two hours,” says Calleja. “We analyzed the dynamics between DOC, bacteria and fish movements during the 24-hour cycle.” The researchers used flow cytometry to analyze microbe cell sizes and community structure at high temporal resolution, showing higher microbial diversity in the mesopelagic zone than expected.

Read the full story on KAUST Discovery here.

This echogram section displays the acoustic data showing the vertical and temporal distribution of fish within a 24-hour cycle. Contouring represents the presence (orange) and absence (white) of fish within the water column. Fish are retreating to 400 and 600 meters depth during the day and spending time in the upper 200 meters at night. The almost vertical lines show the fish swimming down at sunrise and up at sunset. © 2018 KAUST


Quantifying Red Sea plastics from coasts to fish As marine plastic pollution becomes an increasing concern worldwide, KAUST scientists report on two projects investigating plastic litter on and off the shores of the Red Sea. © 2018 KAUST

To investigate plastics on beaches, the team has developed a method using unmanned aerial vehicles and machine learning to improve the monitoring of large swathes of coastal areas for plastic litter. “We know that we dump millions of tons of plastic in the sea every year, but we don’t know where this ends up,” explains marine science Ph.D. student Cecilia Martin. “One of the most influential scientists in the field of marine plastic pollution, Jenna Jambeck, from the University of Georgia, says we can’t manage what we can’t measure. So quantifying plastic on beaches is a key step to quantifying the whole of marine litter.” But such a count is painstakingly slow and inefficient. Current methods involve people walking and scanning small portions of accessible beaches, making it impractical for assessing global distribution patterns of plastic litter on our coasts. KAUST marine ecologist, Carlos Duarte, and colleagues from the Red Sea Research Center; the Water Desalination and Reuse Center; and the Computer, Electrical and Mathematical Sciences and Engineering Division, tested the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for scanning larger portions of beaches faster than current approaches.

The team conducted a standard beach survey of plastic items and then compared the results with numbers of plastic items along the same area of beach by analyzing images taken by a UAV. They found that UAVs can scan beaches for plastic litter 40 times faster than the standard visual-census approach. Manual screening of UAV images taken from a height of ten meters was 62 percent accurate. The team then fed a computer with images of litter to train it to automatically detect plastics when provided with new images. This method led to an overestimation of the amount of plastic litter on the beach, but it was relatively accurate in its ability to identify the percentages of different types of plastic, such as drink containers, bottle caps and plastic bags. Despite its shortcomings, this method shows promise. Improvements can be made by using a higher-resolution camera on the UAV and by feeding the computer more image samples, Martin explains.

Read the full story on KAUST Discovery here. Research Highlights | 10


Accolades Deep-Sea Biology Society Landmark Paper Award Congratulations to Prof. Carlos Duarte and co-authors who have been presented with the DeepSea Biology Society Landmark Paper Award by the Deep-Sea Biology Society at the 15th Deep-Sea Biology Symposium in Monterey, USA this week for their paper entitled “Sinking particles promote vertical connectivity in the ocean microbiome,” published this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA.

Global Advisory Board of The Red Sea Development Company Professor Carlos Duarte was recently appointed to the Global Advisory Board of The Red Sea Development Company. The Advisory Board is comprised of regional and international leaders in business, tourism, environmental sustainability and conservation. Read more here.

The Blaise Pascal Medal Carlos Duarte, KAUST professor of marine science and the Tarek Ahmed Juffali research chair in Red Sea ecology, received the Blaise Pascal Medal from the European Academy of Sciences (EurASc) for his contributions in advancing earth and environmental sciences. Duarte received his medal at EurASc 2018, the yearly academy meeting, which held at the University of Bielefeld, Germany, from October 18 to 20. EurASc is a nonprofit, non-governmental organization of distinguished scholars and engineers performing research and developing advanced technologies. EurASc established the Blaise Pascal Medal in 2003 in recognition of outstanding and demonstrated personal contributions to science and technology and the promotion of excellence in research and education. “It is a great honor to be distinguished with this medal, which also entails being appointed a fellow of the European Academy of Sciences, and joining the distinguished group of previous recipients of the medal and fellows,” Duarte said. Read more here. 11 | Accolades


Bacteria that boost plant roots against drought Adding certain types of bacteria to soil could help protect plants against drought by activating a proton pump in root cells. Two types of bacteria known for their growth-promoting properties improved chili plant resistance to drought. They do this partially through their role in over-activating a pump present in the vacuolar membrane of root cells that ultimately facilitates water uptake from soil. Microbial ecologist, Daniele Daffonchio, and colleagues at KAUST and in Italy investigated whether bacteria that can confer drought resistance in plants have an effect on a cellular vacuolar proton pump that helps roots take up more water from the soil. Vacuolar proton pumps are proteins present in the membranes of cell vesicles called vacuoles. These vesicles play a variety of roles, including storing nutrients and waste products.

When vacuolar proton pumps are activated, hydrogen ions are pumped into the vacuole, creating an electrochemical gradient that increases the osmotic pressure within the vacuole: this encourages water to move from the soil into the roots. Daffonchio and his team selected two types of bacteria for their experiments: Bacillus subtilis and Paenibacillus illinoinensis. These endophytic bacteria live within plant tissues and have properties that promote plant growth and enhance their tolerance to drought. The team compared the effects of growing chili plants, which are highly sensitive to water stress, under normal and drought-simulating conditions with or without the presence of the bacteria. They found that the bacteria successfully colonize the roots of the chili plants, enhance the formation of a more robust root system, and improve photosynthetic activity under drought conditions. Taking a closer look, they found, for the first time, that the bacteria over-activate a vacuolar proton pump in the plants called V-PPase. Read more on KAUST Discovery here.

The chili plants inoculated with the two bacteria (right top and bottom) grew well under drought conditions compared to noninoculated plants. Š 2018 Ramona Marasco

Research Highlights | 12


FEP 2018: Marine Biodiversity

FEP 2018 keynote speaker: Greg Skomal © 2018 KAUST

FEP 2018 keynote speaker: Luiz Rocha © 2018 KAUST

This year’s Enrichment in the Fall program, chaired by Omar Knio, Professor of Applied Mathematics and Computational Science, was entitled “Marine Biodiversity” and took place from October 20-23, 2018. This year’s theme was inspired by the workshop “The Future of Red Sea Biodiversity” organized by the Red Sea Research Center at KAUST and was held from October 23-25, 2018. During this program, KAUST and the online audience who followed the program on the social media, were immersed in four keynote lectures, a musical event by the KAUST Ensembles, a marine film festival, KAUST live interviews, a marine photo contest and exhibition, a book reading, mangroves and birds guided tours, and much more.

FEP 2018 keynote speaker: Catherine McFadden © 2018 KAUST

FEP 2018 keynote speaker: Gustav Paulay © 2018 KAUST

13 | FEP 2018: Marine Biodiversity

The four keynote lectures were addressed by renowned international marine scientists; Into the Twilight Zone by Luiz Rocha, associate curator at the California Academy of Sciences and deep coral reefs explorer; The Secret Life of Jaws by Greg Skomal, leader at the Massachusetts Shark Research Program; Hidden in plain sight? The cryptic biodiversity of coral reefs, by Catherine McFadden, Vivian and D. Kenneth Baker professor of biology at Harvey Mudd College; and Mare Incognitium: How Little We Know About Coastal Biodiversity and How to Change That by Gustav Paulay, curator of invertebrates at the Florida Museum of Natural History. The keynote lectures and the KAUST live interviews are available on the KAUST Official YouTube channel.


New Faces at RSRC Collin Williams

Kirsty Scott

Master’s Student Reef Ecology Lab

Master’s Student Microbial Oceanography and Biochemistry Lab

Alumnus of The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA

Alumna of Newcastle University, UK

Ashlie McIvor

Claire Shellem

Master’s Student Reef Ecology Lab

Master’s Student Reef Ecology Lab

Alumna of The University of Highlands and Islands, Scotland, UK

Alumna of Occidental College, Los Angeles, California, USA

Lucy Fitzgerald

Wally Rich

Master’s Student Reef Ecology Lab

PhD Student Reef Ecology Lab

Alumna of Eckerd College, Florida, USA

Alumnus of Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil

Morgan Bennett-Smith

Shannon Brown

Master’s Student Reef Ecology Lab Alumnus of Occidental College, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Chunzhi Cai PhD Student Biological Oceanography Lab Alumnus of The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong, China

Afrah Alothman

Master’s Student Reef Ecology Lab Alumna of The University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon, USA

Lily Genevier PhD Student Earth Fluid Modeling and Prediction Lab Alumna of Plymouth University, UK

PhD Student Biological Oceanography Lab Alumna of Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada

New Faces at RSRC | 14


Contact Us rsrc.info@kaust.edu.sa seda.gasparyan@kaust.edu.sa www.rsrc.kaust.edu.sa Red Sea Research Center (RSRC) King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) Ibn Al-Haytham (building 2) Thuwal 23955-6900 Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Follow Us on Social Media @rsrc.kaust @RSRC_KAUST @rsrc_kaust

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Profile for Red Sea Research Center

RSRC Newsletter, Issue 5, Fall 2018  

RSRC Newsletter, Issue 5, Fall 2018  

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