Investigating the effect of oil spills
on the environment and public health.
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Funding Source: Year One Block Grant - Florida Institute of Oceanography

Project Overview

Baseline and Oil Spill Impacted Marine Sponge Microbial Communities and Gene Expression Analysis with Metagenomics

Principal Investigator
Nova Southeastern University
Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences
Member Institutions
Florida Atlantic University, Florida International University, Nova Southeastern University, Ocean Ridge Biosciences, The University of Chicago - Argonne National Laboratory, Valdosta State University


The primary aim of this project is to characterize and monitor physiological and genetic baseline parameters in marine sponges and their associated microbial symbionts using modern molecular methods, before and after exposure to petroleum products. This project will develop sponges and their microbes as potential “sentinel” species to assess the impact of past and potential oil contamination on reef habitats. Sponges and their associated microbes are excellent environmental sentinels. Using next generation molecular tools such as transcriptomics and metagenomics, we will simultaneously trace the direct impact of crude oil (and byproducts) and dispersants on both sponge physiology (a general marker of reef health) and sponge microbial community dynamics (a general marker of regional seawater quality). Evaluating shifts in the composition and function of these organisms and their resident microbes will allow us to determine the overall effects of hydrocarbon loading in the water column that have resulted from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  Controlled oil exposure pilot experiments will also be performed in closed aquaculture systems.

This research was made possible by a grant from BP/The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative.