Biology Professor Receives Maskalick Biodiversity Seed Grant
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pennsylvania – Todd LaJeunesse, professor of biology at Penn State, was recently awarded the David G. Maskalick and Kathleen A. Maskalick Biodiversity Healthcare Seed Grant from the Eberly College of Science Office for Innovation.
The Maskalick Biodiversity Healthcare Seed Grant Program is designed to provide financial support to researchers collecting preliminary data and to stimulate biodiversity research at the college. David Maskalick, a biochemistry graduate in 1978, and Kathleen Maskalick established the program to promote the protection of biodiversity and support the prevention of mass extinctions on earth.
Program grants will seek to advance knowledge about the health and survival of all life and all natural resources, humanity, and commerce. LaJeunesse received the grant for his project titled: “Investigation and Characterization of Host-Generalist and Host-Specialist Coral Endosymbionts,” which is led by graduate student Caleb Butler.
This Biodiversity Grant provided funds for laboratory supplies and travel expenses to Palau to study coral biodiversity and its physiological ecology to better understand the function of single-celled organisms that live with corals and how they are essential to conservation efforts and predicting the future of reef-building corals and the ecosystems they build.
“We are grateful for this funding,” said LaJeunesse. “As one of the world’s leading laboratories conducting this research, trips to places like Palau are valuable opportunities. These additional funds help maximize our efforts and the quality of science we are able to achieve. Our efforts to accurately resolve the diversity of symbionts essential to coral health are leading to breakthroughs in understanding their ability to endure and adapt to climate change.
The LaJeunesse laboratory’s research focuses on the evolutionary ecology of mutualistic symbioses, the interactions between two or more species where each species benefits, mainly the associations between corals and the unicellular dinoflagellates that live in their tissues. These associations form the basis of one of the most biologically diverse and threatened marine ecosystems on the planet. Through the use of various genetic approaches in the laboratory and in the field, they examine ecological, biogeographical and phylogenetic patterns to infer fundamental ecological and evolutionary processes. The research aims to understand how coral communities globally are responding ecologically and evolutionarily to global warming. Coral symbionts, Symbiodinium, are ideal for examining broader questions about microbial biodiversity, clonality, sexual recombination, dispersal, speciation, and ecological/physiological specialization, among other topics.
Prior to joining the faculty at Penn State, LaJeunesse was an assistant professor at Florida International University and a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Georgia from 2000 to 2004. He received a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University in 1991 and a Ph.D. at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2000.