October 2012 will not be a typical month for College of Charleston sophomore Alix Generous. But, Generous isn’t a typical student. She is traveling to Hyderabad, India where she will be the only undergraduate student presenting research at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. The molecular biology major’s research focuses on how coral reefs could be genetically modified to resist the destruction caused by climate change.
“The inspiration for this research came last summer when I studied abroad in Bali,” Generous says. “The courses focused on tropical ecosystems and I noticed that many of the coral reefs we saw were damaged or destroyed. I remembered the same thing from a trip to the Bahamas. I began to think about solutions and realized the answer could lie with cell communication.”
Generous believes thriving coral reefs have an abundance of cellular communication between microbial communities, and one of the first signs of destruction is an inhibition of cellular communication. She realized that the use of quorum sensing (a form of bacterial cell communication that detect density) was a way to detect whether or not that coral was healthy prior to the appearance of physical signs of dying coral. She proposed that reintroducing specific kinds of bacteria, built synthetically in a bacterial cell culture or a lab, would build up the coral resilience to climate change, the leading cause of coral “bleaching” and deaths of reefs, by sustaining cellular communication between these microbial communities inhabiting them.
This opportunity is a result of Generous winning first place in the SustainUS 2012 Citizen Science Paper Competition. In addition to presenting at the Conference of the Parties (COP) program at the Convention, her paper, “Environmental Threats on the Symbiotic Relationship of Coral Reefs and Quorum Sensing,” will be published in Consilience: the Journal of Sustainable Development (Columbia University).
“This is an unbelievable opportunity to have as a sophomore,” Generous says. “I haven’t even taken any upper level courses, so it will be really interesting to see what other projects and theories develop as I learn from my professors in biology and neuroscience.”
Generous plans to pursue a Ph.D. in the field of neuropsychopharmacology and to establish a molecular foundation for treatment of bipolar disorder. She also intends to continue to work on sustainability projects and research focusing on preserving endangered species of tigers and primates.
For more information, contact Generous at firstname.lastname@example.org.