The Graduate Program in Marine Biology offers students a well-rounded education in marine biology. The curriculum is designed to provide students breadth in their education, while focused research projects develop depth. The faculty members in the program offer students a wide range of scientific and technical expertise. Some overall programmatic strengths of the graduate program are outlined below, however, the strengths are not confined to these areas. Students are encouraged to survey the interests of individual faculty members in choosing graduate programs and faculty mentors.
The programmatic strengths outlined below are not presented as separate disciplinary areas of research. Indeed there is extensive overlap among all the areas. This information is presented as a guide.
Physiology and Cell Biology
Organisms interact with their immediate environment. The mechanisms that organisms use to cope with the environmental conditions characteristic of estuaries and coastal habitats is the focus of much research in the graduate program. In particular, the effects of temperature, salinity, and low dissolved oxygen form the themes of major research programs. These programs of research include many different groups of marine organisms including, but not limited to, crustaceans (crabs, shrimp), molluscs (oysters, clams), fishes, sharks and rays. The mechanisms that are studied include the respiratory and salinity responses of whole organisms, the responses of tissues to salinity-induced hormonal stimulation, the responses of immune systems to environmental stress. Reproductive physiology is also emphasized as an indication of environmental stress. Such studies logically link physiology and cell biology to other areas of marine biology.
Numerous faculty and graduate students in the graduate program are involved in research related to the marine ecology of estuaries and near-coastal waters in subareas that include oceanography, benthic ecology, community ecology, fisheries and plankton ecology, invertebrate zoology, coastal zone management, trophic interactions, GIS and marine conservation ecology. Current research emphasizes areas such as restoration ecology, stock recruitment relationships of nearshore fishes, predator-prey interactions, invertebrate feeding, nekton utilization of tidal creek habitats, ecology of invertebrate taxa (especially crustaceans), microbial ecology, molluscan ecology and related molluscan diseases, ecology of endangered species, ecological interactions across habitat boundaries, tidal creeks and relationships with land use of surrounding watersheds using GIS, animal-sediment-pollutant interactions, marine reserves, reef ecology, remote sensing, marine invertebrate behavior, and influences of animal-microbe interactions on sediment biogeochemistry.
The distribution, abundance, and evolutionary history of marine organisms are a focus of study of several faculty members in the graduate program. The geographic distribution of populations and their potential for evolutionary divergence is explored by way of patterns of genetic variation. Life history parameters, such as age-specific fecundity, longevity, and sex ratios, as well as patterns of recruitment, are analyzed to understand the rate of growth of populations. At evolutionary time scales, the phylogenetic history of species are studied using molecular and morphological data. Research programs include a variety of marine organisms and habitats, including studies of infaunal invertebrate distributions in tidal creeks, characterization of genetic diversity in deep-sea corals and threatened beach plants, genetic population structure of coastal and offshore dolphins and commercially-important fish, and life history analyses of reef fishes, sea turtles and ospreys.
This interdisciplinary area of research focuses on identifying anthropogenic and natural contaminants associated with agriculture, urbanization, dredging operations, and industrial discharges and their resulting toxicological and ecological impacts on marine and estuarine ecosystems. Effects of interest include mortality, reproduction, development, growth, productivity, metabolism, bioaccumulation and adaptation. These endpoints are examined in a variety of organisms (e.g., microorganisms, bivalves, crustaceans, fishes) and levels (subcellular, individuals, communities, ecosystems) using several test designs (aquatic, sediment, trophic transfer) and tiers of study (laboratory, mesocosm, field). Another area of research is the characterization of the partitioning, the transformation, and the fates of chemicals in the environment. Toxicology also involves development of sublethal indicators (biomarkers) of contaminant exposure and stress, the identification of specific sites and mechanisms of toxicity, and the use of mathematical models for ecological risk assessment and management.
Marine genomics includes classic genomics (gene analysis and sequencing of entire genomes), transcriptomics (study of gene expression), proteomics (research of products of gene expression), metabolomics (large-scale study of products and pathways of metabolism), and bioinformatics (acquisition, management, and interpretation of large sets of biological data). Through newly developed core genomics courses, students learn the most widely employed techniques of the field, including mapping, sequencing, and annotating genomes, microarray technology, phylogenetic analysis, bioinformatics, and methodologies in transcriptomics and proteomics. Most current marine genomics projects by GPMB faculty focus on early, molecular-level responses of organisms to environmental stress. The ultimate goal of these diverse studies is to understand and improve South Carolina’s living marine resources. Current projects focus on the American oyster, Atlantic white shrimp, grass shrimp, Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, right whales, and corals.