Polar News

Florida Atlantic University and Thermo Fisher Scientific Advancing Marine Science and Conservation

A unique agreement between Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute and Thermo Fisher Scientific, a world leader in serving science, will enable researchers to advance marine science and conserve endangered species worldwide from the tropics to the Arctic.

As part of the public-private collaboration, Thermo Fisher is helping FAU Harbor Branch’s efforts by supporting development of a laboratory infrastructure that includes the latest genetic analysis platforms, which are essential to advance studies on marine ecosystems at the molecular level. FAU Harbor Branch will assess Thermo Fisher’s technology and provide feedback on how the platforms may be optimized for applications in the fields of marine science and species conservation.

A major roadblock to advances in studies on marine species and ecosystems is a shortage of funding opportunities for costly infrastructure – such as large molecular platforms, laboratory instrumentation, and downstream data analysis software – that are needed to process and analyze large numbers of samples from endangered species.

In recent years, this shortfall has become a primary obstacle to solving emerging environmental crises. Time is running out, especially in remote regions and underserved communities across the globe, where the commitment to solving emerging environmental issues is often greatest but access to science and technology is lowest.

“We needed to replace our laboratory’s workhorse, the Applied Biosystems 3130 Genetic Analyzer. However, it was challenging to find the funding to replace this critical tool,” said Greg O’Corry-Crowe, Ph.D., a research professor at FAU Harbor Branch and leader of WEB: the Wildlife Evolution and Behavior program. “Without the analyzer, our team couldn’t make progress on a series of critical projects from the tropics to the Arctic. So, we approached Thermo Fisher with a novel idea of accessing essential equipment in return for our insights on how their technology could better serve efforts to solve growing wildlife and environmental issues.”

Following discussions with O’Corry-Crowe and the research team, Thermo Fisher answered the call to assist with research and conservation efforts at FAU Harbor Branch by providing a state-of-the-art, upgraded Applied Biosystems SeqStudio Flex Genetic Analyzer.

“In alignment with our mission of enabling customers to make the world healthier, cleaner and safer, we were excited at the opportunity to support research that will help address environmental issues around the globe,” said Stephen Jackson, Ph.D., associate director of product applications in genetic sciences at Thermo Fisher.

The benefits of the new collaboration are already in the works with the addition of the Applied Biosystems SeqStudio Flex Genetic Analyzer in the WEB laboratory, which enables scientists to analyze genetic samples. In addition to technology support, Thermo Fisher will provide much needed expertise and assistance in research and development. They also are keen to provide the next generation of genetic platforms that are coming down the pike including Thermo Fisher’s new Applied Biosystems SeqStudio Flex Genetic Analyzer. Together, the public-private collaboration is expected to make significant advances.

“Genetics has been a critical focus for conservation biology because it helps us to understand the evolution of endangered species and allows us to develop more effective management strategies,” said Tatiana Ferrer, research coordinator for WEB. “We were absolutely thrilled with Thermo Fisher’s response to support our endeavors and we are excited to collaborate with them on these important scientific and conservation initiatives.”

WEB is dedicated to basic and applied research on marine mammals, including remote locations such as the Arctic. Research focuses on behavioral, ecological, and evolutionary aspects of species’ vulnerability and resilience, especially as it relates to climate change. Scientists combine molecular genetic analysis with field ecology to study the molecular and behavioral ecology of marine and other endangered species and apply ancient DNA technology to answer ecosystem and evolutionary questions. Current field and laboratory studies in WEB include investigations on beluga whales, polar bears, Stellar sea lions, ice seals, and bottlenose dolphins.

“Among the many challenges we face in the field of conservation genetics is that so much of our time is required to complete projects with limited resources. In addition, under tough field conditions such as working in the Arctic, it can be especially difficult to collect samples,” said O’Corry-Crowe. “Now, with our partners at Thermo Fisher, we can work jointly to troubleshoot and develop new and innovative approaches to benefit animals and humans alike.”

The ultimate goal of the collaboration is to provide greater access to scientific research and education by getting technology into the hands of those on the front lines of dealing with environmental challenges and saving endangered species.

“The Applied Biosystems SeqStudio Flex Genetic Analyzer provided to us by Thermo Fischer is a powerful tool that will enable our scientists in the Wildlife Evolution and Behavior program to fast-track their research analysis and advance their ability to answer key scientific questions that impact us locally as well as globally,” said James Sullivan, Ph.D., executive director, FAU Harbor Branch. “We are very grateful for their support and for their commitment for collaboration in conservation.”

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